Friday, 25 April 2008

Is It a Dunn Deal?

In last week's M&P Observer, Cllr Dunn "answered" readers' questions about the proposed academy. This is the man who has extolled the virtues of the academy from the outset and was still supposed to make an objective decision as the Cabinet Member. We knew the bias was going to be evident in his answers, but were astounded by some of them. We think that the public are entitled to another perspective, especially as some of his answers are misleading. We aren't actually convinced that he wrote all parts of all of the answers, but as these are his answers, we are directing our comments and questions back to him.

So in the posts below (entitled Dunn Deal and...), you will see the question asked in bold black type, his answers in plain text and my responses in blue. I did not add the introduction and conclusion, mainly because the questions and answers speak for themselves. There were a few other questions which were in the paper, which do not appear in the on-line article so I have not been able copy these across. In addition, we've received comments back from someone at the Anti-Academies Alliance about this article, which I shall put in the comments section of the relevant posts as soon as I can. Please feel free to add to the discussion!

Dunn Deal and Academy "Simplicities"

In simple terms, how does an Academy work?

An Academy operates as a normal state school, funded by central government but with additional funding from a private sponsor and the expertise and further resources the sponsor brings. It also gains certain freedoms in how it operates, how it organises the running of the school, the curriculum, the additional resources it calls upon and the partnership arrangements it makes, while being accountable to central government for the delivery of standards and the core curriculum.
It doesn’t operate as a normal state school. Normal state schools are usually maintained by the Local Authority and within a ‘family’ of maintained schools. ULT is one of the few who have actual educational expertise of any kind, but we think that Rother Valley teachers and administrators have the greatest expertise on our schools and educating our children! “The sponsor gains freedoms in how it operates”: freedoms or liberties? It’s accountable to central government, who at this stage, need for academies to seen to be as succeeding- not accountable to us.

Academies offer a broad and balanced curriculum to students of all abilities, and offer one or more specialisms. Money for all the core services (education and teaching, buildings and a wide range of support services) will come from central government.

MGS currently has a specialism. Broad and balanced curriculum in academies? RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THE EXACT OPPOSITE. See Roger Titcombe’s work.

All places at Academies are free of charge. Places at a Rother Valley Academy would be available to all local young people under an agreed and published admissions policy similar to those applying to all other secondary schools within West Sussex.
Similar to- not the same as- all other WS secondary schools. The admissions policy is agreed with central government. The sponsor will be its own admissions authority. Separate funding arrangements involving the local authority will deal with the continued provision of support to local children with special educational needs, who would be welcomed at the Academy, Academies are operated by not-for-profit Trusts.
This is interesting. When will we see these separate funding arrangements? What does ‘involving’ mean? Is this just a clause in the Funding Agreement (private contract between sponsor and secretary of state ONLY, not with Local Authority as is sometimes implied. The sponsors “consult” with local authorities, but ultimately the contract is theirs alone) in which the LA has had some input?
And as for children with SEN being welcomed at the academy, as a former teacher at a Special School, I hope that is the case. Please note, though, that the admissions criteria are for pupils with SEN who have a Statement (of SEN) naming the academy. Getting a statement of SEN for a pupil with special needs seems to get progressively more difficult every year- there are many pupils with a wide range of special needs, pupils catered for very well in some of our schools, who do not have statements. If parents and staff manage to overcome the many hurdles in the way and get a Statement for a child, they then have to get the academy written into the statement, stating why the academy is best suited for the pupil’s needs. Parents can influence the choice of school, but they are not guaranteed that in the actual statement. Advice on this is clear “However, if there's a suitable state school, the local authority has no legal duty to send your child to a non-maintained or independent school.” It isn’t clear that the academy would necessarily welcome all children with any form of special needs, unless they were able to get a statement, and name the academy in this.

They secure sponsorship of up to £2m to support the charitable purposes of the Academy: this money is not for the core educational functions, but is put into an endowment fund aimed at enhancing opportunities for local young people.
Please note the UP TO. Don’t bank on £2 million, literally. And that sponsorship is in cash or in kind. Services can be provided by the sponsor which are then valued by them as a cash equivalent as part of their sponsorship.
Can charities support local young people by enhancing their opportunities, and do so financially? Of course, they already do. But if it is a charitable act, why are sponsors expecting something in return, i.e. control of the school? If groups, philanthropists or even businesses want to provide an endowment, let’s ask them to do it. How many will put their money where their mouth is when we ask for it with no strings attached? Would ULT?

Dunn Deal and Few Academies

If Academies are so good, why aren't there more of them?

There are only limited national funds available – mainly for the significant capital investment from central government but also from private sponsors who have the expertise and commitment required. xxx

The government is already committed to open more than 400 Academies and recently announced an acceleration in the number that would be opened each year. The Academy we're proposing for young people in the Rother Valley would be one of the pioneers in rural areas, but more are planned.
PIONEERS???!!! We are in untested waters here . We are the guinea pigs. If we are to be the first, and others are looking to us as the test-case, surely we should be far more cautious and make sure things are being done right. It is our very real worry that The Rother Valley will be a lesson in “How Not To Do It” in the re-organisations of schools and establishment of an academy. People with whom we have spoken, who know a lot about academies and have seen some through beginning to end (or near end. Most academies take a matter of years NOT months to complete) are shocked and appalled at what they hear and read of our situation. Most of them, quite frankly don’t believe it and think there is some misunderstanding.

Dunn Deal and the Future

If the education system stays as it is in the Rother Valley, how do you envisage the system being in five/ten years' time?

There is a significant risk that the rolls of smaller schools, both primary and secondary, will continue to fall. This would place pressure upon the facilities and resources at Midhurst Grammar such that the demands on staff will increase and the confidence and support of the local community will be tested. In such circumstances we may struggle to sustain, let alone improve further, current standards and performance, even with the huge commitment of school managers and staff to build upon recent achievements.
The confidence and support of the local community have been sorely tested by the handling of this consultation exercise. We have heard of many people ready to jump ship (or who have already) not just because of the change, but because it has been so badly done. There are parents and staff who do not trust the Authority and the promises given. This is a terrible situation to be put in. When MGS went into Special Measures, there were problems with parental choice; we’re not denying that. But it’s doing well, and can recover if given the chance. The LA did not support MGS in the first place and are now making matters so much worse. The school is hundreds of years old and one blip on the radar has made it vulnerable, which is very unfair. The school and the system should be given support, encouragement and time to prove themselves.

The three-tier system, with intermediate schools, has its very real strengths, of course, but it is increasingly costly to protect and not sufficiently popular with local parents, a significant proportion of whom still send their children out of the local catchment area or choose the private school option.
The intermediate schooling is popular- their rolls may have fallen recently here- but that hasn’t been given a chance to recover. Furthermore, I know of many people who supported the age-of-transfer change, but thought it just meant changing at the end of Year 6 in line with neighbouring authorities. They had no idea that it meant an abolition of MIS/HSS and they certainly had no idea whatsover that doing so would lead to an academy and this chaos.

The county council wishes to help schools to rejuvenate educational provision in the Rother Valley. We are tackling the age of transfer challenge and have proposed that a single secondary school is created to achieve a truly world class education for all young people aged 11 to 18 in the area.
IS WEST SUSSEX NOT ABLE TO DO THIS WITHOUT AN ACADEMY? Despite their dire approach to education in the Rother Valley recently, we think that there are talented and commited professionals in West Sussex who could make our school world-class. Robbing Peter to pay Paul (central government £, still taxpayers’) may bring quick cash, but if there was no academy option, surely there would be possibilities for “rejuvenation” and age-of-transfer change.

Dunn Deal and Money Money Money

Why can't the money that will be made available to the Academy be given instead to the grammar school to update the very old buildings?

Some of the money comes from the private sector and they will want to influence how that is spent. DINGGGGGGG (That’s the sound of alarm bells)

For the significant central government investment the DCSF will want assurances that standards will improve quickly and this means real changes in approach and accountability.
Couldn’t agree more. (but how this is done leaves a lot to be desired; at the very least a need to be open to full public scrutiny – which we’ve not been given)

It is not just a question of throwing money at the problem. There must be a guarantee high aspirations will lead to new educational opportunities and higher educational achievements for local young people.Waffling of the highest order.
But in fact, studies show that it is INVESTMENT not the academies themselves which make the difference. There is another funding stream called “Excellence in Cities” (obviously not appropriate to Midhurst). The point is that EiC-funded schools which stayed in Local Authority control had less capital funding, but raised standards and results better than academies on a like-for-like basis (except the EiC schools kept the same proportion of SEN students and students eligible for FSM, unlike academies). New buildings, feel-good factor: that’s what parents like when looking at a new academy. But buildings and facilities are new for only so long. High apsirations, opportunties and achievements can be provided for very well by OUR schools.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has been quite clear with us. There is no prospect of any significant capital investment coming Midhurst's way for years to come unless we secure what can now be made available to us.
This is what we keep hearing. Apart from the fact that it’s very interesting that this was only such a burning issue when the academy beast reared its head, we still have not had a satisfactory answer to the allocation on the BSF website: which states that West Sussex is in Wave 10-12, not 12-15, probably 15 as is bandied about
Maybe West Sussex have another school/schools in line for this BSF funding, and giving away our secondaries is the easiest and best ££££ decision for them. If they think we are in such desperate need for the money that we need to sign over the schools to a private sponsor in a few months, as soon as the money is released to West Sussex, they must invest in the Rother Valley and keep our school(s) our own.

To turn down up to some £30m of capital funding would be wrong (my italics) and would deprive local children and school staff the opportunity they deserve of working in the most supportive learning environment that could be provided.
This sounds more like Dunn. It really does make me cross- what an insult to many of the fantastic staff we have now! Are they incapable of providing the most supportive learning environment that could be provided?!

Dunn Deal and City Academies

Aren't Academies for inner-city areas? Why do you think the Academy will make such a difference in the Rother Valley?

Initially this was the case as the national Academy programme focused on schools with the greatest problems of low educational standards and performance. That was what government ministers agreed to, and what many still think. The “city” was quietly dropped from “academies” because some academies left the urban jungle and moved into leafier areas out of city centre. Unsurprisingly, their “clientele” changed. Then struggling independent schools realised that getting 20+ million quid from central government was a lot easier than raising bursaries and chasing a dwindling pool of parents scraping together tuition fees. Academies are still supposed to be for areas of deprivation, seriously underperforming schools or where extra places are needed.
The government is now recognising that smaller rural secondary schools can also struggle to sustain standards and that they too should benefit from major investment – one that will ultimately benefit the whole community. This is one of the most disingenuous, misleading statements so far. OF COURSE government knows that small rural secondary schools should benefit from investment. INVESTMENT DOES NOT EQUAL ACADEMIES!!!

I am confident that if it proceeds, this ambitious project would make a huge difference for the communities of the Rother Valley. The establishment of a new, energetically-run Academy should be positive news for parents across our county and beyond. Huge difference? Yes. Positive? Maybe for some; definitely not for others.
“Our county and beyond” is a worrying addition: this suggests the test-case scenario again.

Likewise, the Academy would act as a beacon for other local schools, sharing its resources and working closely with local primary schools to ensure the transition from primary to secondary education works well for all future pupils.
Again, we need an academy to be a beacon? There is a monumentally greater proportion of maintained schools which are beacons, compared to academies (are there even any? Please name one if you can). I know first hand that Rother Valley schools DO share resources and DO work together to ensure school transition. ULT promise access of 9000 lesson plans for teachers: why are these not available to schools like those in the Rother Valley if they are so passionate about education and the best for Rother Valley children? This is the sort of collaboration and sharing which currently is made available in the state system. I myself have provided resources for West Sussex teachers through the county. There are lots of these about, made by teachers who want to share. Freely.

Dunn Deal and Curriculum

Can you guarantee all humanities and arts subjects and modern foreign languages currently provided as part of the timetabled curriculum would remain so within the proposed Academy?

It is impossible for any school to guarantee the continuation of any specific subject into the medium term and beyond. None of our existing county council schools would do so; we mustn't expect the Academy to do so either. Curriculum decisions at ULT-sponsored Academies are made by the principal and senior staff subject to central ULT frameworks and guidance. True, but this is much more the case for the academy- as it is all up to them. The academy, as is stated, is subject to central ULT frameworks. Let’s hope what is decided in Northamptonshire is exactly what we need in the Rother Valley.
It is ULT policy to offer a broad and balanced curriculum. Although the Academy would have specialisms of science with mathematics, a full curriculum (my italics) including humanities, arts subjects and modern foreign languages would of course be offered.
?!? How on earth can Cllr Dunn say this with any degree of authority? No one knows what the time-tabled curriculum will be like and the sponsors are under no obligation to tell us! Please, look at the consultation document, page 8. “The core provision will consist of English, mathematics, science, ICT, religious education, physical education, citizenship, PSHE, careers and work-related learning and enterprise”. The only mention of any other subjects are in a preceding paragraph: “A programme of enrichment activities and extracurricular opportunities will be developed to complement the formal curriculum.” In other academies, this has meant after-school clubs and the occasional themed taster (eg “Arts Week”). We have been told by well-informed authorities that academy curricula (from current) are unlikely to change drastically in the first couple of years. What about after that? Curricula in academies have narrowed dramatically compared to their predecessor schools. Is Cllr Dunn legally liable for promising this to parents if the academy doesn’t deliver? (after all, they’ve set out their proposals on page 8 of their consultation document- no full curriculum with humanities, arts and languages promised).
It is also guaranteed that all students at the Academy who have already begun the syllabus for external examinations in any subject would be able and encouraged to complete this qualification.
This is maybe the first re-assurance I have read thus far. Good, but :How is it guaranteed? Where?

Dunn Deal and Transparency

Would you consider monitoring and publishing the balance of uptake of humanities, arts around MFL and vocational subjects in the proposed Academy during its first three years, to ensure that choice is not restricted and that some subject areas would not suffer from a 'squeeze' in the race to appear to raise standards?

The county council and community representatives would have a role on the governing body and will support the sponsors in achieving full transparency as part of its commitment to the community. The Local Authority will have 1 spot on the governing body, of which the sponsor has a two-thirds majority. Full transparency? How? Please provide one example of an academy achieving full transparency to the community.
I am confident the new Academy will have nothing to hide. It will be up to governors and the community to measure and assess its academic and specialist strengths, which will very quickly become obvious to observers. And what do the observers do, if after measuring and assessing the academy, they are dissatisfied? The school is leased to the sponsor for 125 years.
Its success, as with all schools, will be judged by parents locally, as well as by the inspections applicable to all other state-maintained schools.
But in other maintained schools, the authority can do a lot more to help if a school has problems. Inspections: not applicable to all other state-maintained schools. See below.

Dunn Deal and Accountability

Can you assure parents that, unlike other Academies, you would make available to current and prospective parents full results, subject by subject? What do you feel about the sponsor's unwillingness to release this data?

That would be for the principal of the Academy to decide, but I can see no reason why such data would not be available. Likewise I am not aware of ULT being unwilling to provide this data to parents at its existing Academies.Can we get a promise from ULT that they will make the data available? Please ask them to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, and then tell us this with some confidence. Researchers and Journalists have found it VERY difficult to access this information from all academies. If you are not aware of this, Cllr Dunn, please could you ask?
Academies are inspected by Ofsted, using the same framework as for any other state school. Prior to opening, the proposed policy documents for the Academy would be subject to inspection. A full Ofsted inspection – with the full results being published – has to be carried out within six terms of the opening. Prior to this inspection the Academy would receive regular visits from Ofsted inspectors.
Not the same as for any other school. This is the latest information we have: They are inspected by a specialist team, which is made up of 8 inspectors for the country, some of whom oddly enough inspected predecessor schools, giving them a rather hard time- classifying them as failing. In 2004, Ofsted agreed a Protocol for working with the DCSF ‘Academies Group’. Under this protocol, Ofsted is involved in providing detailed advice concerning the setting up of individual Academies. It was also agreed in the Protocol that their inspections should be “helpful in promoting the Academy’s progress”. Given that Ofsted is so closely identified with the development of individual Academies and with the success of the Academies programme as a whole, its independence from government has been compromised. This is inequitable: parents do not receive like-for-like reports for Academies and non-Academies.

Dunn Deal and Haste

Given this would be the fastest-ever establishment of an Academy, how can you possibly ensure the process would be executed effectively, so schools, their staff, and, most importantly, the children won't suffer as a result?

The county council and ULT, as proposed sponsor, have entered into this programme with real commitment and enthusiasm and see no reason why we cannot work together with current staff and the wider community to achieve good outcomes quickly. Commitment and enthusiasm are great, but I can see plenty of reasons why good outcomes can’t be achieved: there isn’t enough time! Two years is considered fast for academy establishment. I am still looking to find feasibility studies carried out in less time than we’ve had just for consultation to academy opening. Given the Herculean experimental nature of this proposal, we should be taking more time, not less to ensure that everything is done properly, if it is going to happen. Just look at the nature of the consultation so far and how rushed that’s been. How many schools- 17?- were asked to consider changes to their schooling PLUS age of transfer arrangements PLUS an academy in 6 weeks. Other authorities who’ve held rushed and flawed consultations have given more time for consideration of academy proposals alone. WSCC could have done this and done this even half-decently if there was time to do so.

The building work and any agreed final age of transfer arrangements would be arranged so any possible disruption can be minimized for children and staff. If the gains of the proposed change to Academy status can be delivered sooner we should try to do so. No we shouldn’t. If an academy must be delivered, it must be delivered well. How can you guarantee minimising disruption when you’re rushing? The primary objective here seems to be to get the Academy through, no matter what, then we’ll worry about the nitty-gritty (like what happens to the children; where the academy might be). Please tell us how you propose to arrange building work and age-of-transfer BEFORE you tell us it will all work out nicely. By the way, staff and pupils at Paddington Academy (ULT) have a very different story to tell about disruption. The Local Authority were not happy, but too late- nothing they could do about it.
The governing bodies, leadership team and staff of the three secondary schools, in particular, have been involved in the consultation process since the Academy option was first given the green light by the DCSF in late January this year.It’s not my place to comment on the GBs, leaders or staff of the secondary schools (until we’ve been given consent to, which we have not asked). I think they must be going through a very difficult time.

I would counter this question by asking one of my own... Are you content the current decline in secondary school numbers should be allowed to continue? No, but again, I think there are answers to be found which do not involve an academy. At the very least, people should have been informed of alternatives, or given a chance to put these forward. Instead, all of us have been told at very short notice, that there will be an academy (pending consultation, an interesting example of circular logic), and have been given nothing but sales pitch. Some people have bought it; a few people have embraced it; many people want to know more specifics and have more time.Or would you like prompt and urgent action to be taken to begin to address current and future challenges? Prompt and urgent? Perhaps. Rash? Definitely not.Children have only one chance at their education... and for the adults responsible for providing the very best educational opportunities in the Rother Valley, time is of the essence. I’d like for my child to have the best chance and in 5-10 years and on down the line when the academy’s “additionality” has dried up, when we could have been seeing some funding for our state school, I have no faith that my child will have the very best educational opportunities. “Time is of the essence”: I ‘ve heard that before. Oh yes, it was in minutes of a meeting called by local headteachers with Mr Back so that they could plan for sustainable schools offering the very best educational opportunities. If there were to be any changes, the timing would need to be right, said he. But on the subject of change: “there is no immediate push from us, but we may well respond if there is pressure to push for system change.. Unless there is a clear steer that change is really desired, we would not come to you.” What are we supposed to believe?

Dunn Deal and Governing Body

How can you assure parents the governors chosen would actually represent the wide diversity of parents, staff and local people's views on the governing body, rather than just supporting the sponsor's position?

This is an area over which the county council would have a key influence. How?

Within our role as children's services authority, we are keen to ensure the proposed Academy fulfils its obligations to the wider needs of young people. This includes ensuring the governing body includes staff, parent and community representation.

You (WSCC) will no longer have control over secondary education. You will have 1 place on the governing body- actually the LOCAL governing body. This is the UCST/ULT line on governance: “All are governed by the Governing Council of the Company, supported by a local governing body at each school”. It isn’t up to WSCC; it’s up to ULT if the academy goes through.

The funding agreement between ULT, the sponsor, and the government would also set down the expectations for local involvement in the school's management. ULT has already made strong commitments on this matter. Let’s see the Funding Agreement then. The LA is not a party to the FA, neither are we, the public.

It is planned there will be 15 local governors, up to ten of whom would come from within the local community. There would still be the usual elected governors, representing parents and staff and a local authority governor. Under these circumstances I am 100 per cent confident the sponsors would be kept fully in touch with local opinion and preferences by seeking strong community representation and engagement.Up to. There are 5 governors not to be appointed by ULT. The principal who is hired by ULT, a LA representative, and 3 elected members: 1 staff, 1 teacher, 1 parent. All others are ULT appointees. (Whom will they choose and how?) This is NOT not not the usual set-up as Cllr Dunn would have us infer. I think that there are presently 15 elected parent governors alone for the 3 schools.

Dunn Deal and Exclusions

Would you monitor exclusion rates at the proposed Academy, and publish data comparing exclusions in the first three years of the proposed academy, with those in the preceding three years?

The county council retains obligations to manage the education of pupils at risk of exclusion and will work closely with the Academy to minimise pupil exclusions. Such data will therefore be available.

Dunn Deal and Teaching

Can you guarantee that unlike other ULT Academies, no unqualified people would be employed to teach classes in place of qualified teachers?

Staff training and development is something ULT takes very seriously. Where ULT has employed unqualified teachers, it is because they have transferred across under TUPE (which guarantees the rights of existing staff) from the predecessor school.
We’re working on this, but given the secretive nature of academies it’s hard to pin down. We know of at least one instance where a technician was TUPEd across and then used as an unqualified teacher, so sneaky answer but probably technically correct (pardon the pun). But of course, ULT are well within their rights to hire whom they like and set their pay and conditions (after TUPE).

Dunn Deal and Choice

Why can't we give parents a choice of an Academy or keeping MGS as it is?

Within a rural area – where only one school will be available for most students – we must accept the same levels of choice as in larger towns will not be available. Rather, we want to ensure parents see the proposed Academy as a significant improvement in the prospects for their children.
The aim of the academy is to bring choice and diversity. True, we have only one upper secondary now, but it is a state school. This academy does not bring choice and diversity. We have very grave concerns about certain aspects of the academy which are not clear to the public at the moment. For instance, ULT are not selecting on religious basis, but stress the need for parents (and staff) to support the ethos. Seems simple enough, the ethos is what any good school would stand for. But, will parents in (their words:) ACCEPTING a place (we have no other choice but to accept) be forced to sign a contract that makes the place conditional on not undermining the Christian approach to the running of the school? What if their version of Christianity doesn’t match the parents? What if parents of a different faith, or of “no faith” object to a particular incident, or rule or policy in the school that is at odds with their beliefs? Would that be grounds for losing the child’s place? What is ULT’s approach to RE? Do parents have the right to withdraw their children from lessons, assemblies, etc. on grounds of religion as they do now? It can get a lot more complicated than this- these are just examples to show how there may be an erosion of choice. If we lived in a town or city where there was at least 1 other secondary school, it might not be such a worrying concept for some.
The choice will be between staying where we are or seizing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the quality of provision the area deserves.
Malarky. The choice may be between getting £20+million in accepting an academy OR keeping control of our secondary education and not getting central funding now. But in not getting an academy, we don’t have to “stay where we are”.

Dunn Deal and Parents

You are on record as saying 'good parents' would support the Academy, and would not deny their children the 'good opportunity' of associating with Winchester College. Are parents who oppose the Academy, bad parents in your eyes?

No – that is not my meaning. I cannot see why any parents would want to oppose the level of investment and reinvigoration that this scheme would bring to the local communities. Umm, see all my other comments.

There is no suggestion that opponents may be bad parents. Good.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Dunn Deal

We are formulating a response to the question and answer session in the Midhurst and Petworth Observer given over to the man who supposedly hasn't made the decision about the academy: Cllr Dunn. Please watch this space- it is very important that we address a number of factual inaccuracies and half-truths, in addition to the fantastic spin he has put on this the re-organisation of our Rother Valley schools, especially the academy issue. He's done a pretty good job there, and may very well convince some people who take him at his word. We know that there is a lot more to the see and we think the public deserve to hear the whole story.

In the meantime, have you read the previous two posts? These were the bases for our press coverage over the past week. However, the story of the surveys came upon us very suddenly (as brought to our attention by concerned parents, some of whom were not NAME members at all). This is what the paper chose to cover. We think it is all important and we'd like to hear your thoughts on any of these issues, so leave a comment on any of our posts.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Exit Poll (and enter poll)

Thank you to all of the voters of our on-line poll. The poll ended just after the Local Authority's consultation, and the results of the poll were a shocking indictment of the public's faith in the consultation process. Despite repeated assurances from council representatives that this was a genuine consultation, our blog showed that an overwhelming majority think otherwise. Only 9% of voters agreed that WSCC were conducting a true consultation, whilst a whopping 88% stated for the record that they didn't believe the consultation to be genuine.

The poll has now closed, but don't go away! We've got another poll posted, seeking your opinion on the time-scale offered to the Rother Valley for this academy proposal. Please have a look and vote on that, too. We may put another question up for a vote, but we are running out of room on the sidebar. Watch this space. In the meantime, we'd also be interested to hear why people voted as they did. Why do you think that West Sussex did not hold a true consultation? (Or maybe you're one of the few who have faith in this consultation and would like to let us know why). Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Consultation ends. Time to think again

This is the press release sent to the local papers on 8th April. We believe that it will be run in the M&P Observer next week, with some follow-up, but thought that you might be interested in the full content following the end of the consultation period.

This week marks the end of West Sussex County Council’s Second Phase Age of Transfer Consultation on Restructuring Rother Valley Schools. NAME campaigners against the proposed Academy are claiming to represent the public opinion which has formed during the consultation period.” We defy anyone to deny that the overwhelming majority at the two public consultation meetings on the Academy (at MIS and Lodsworth Village Hall) were against this privatisation plan” said spokesperson Simon Boxley, “WSCC cannot claim to have won the educational argument. This should not be about politics – it should be about children.” However, he continued,
“We must not be complacent. In other parts of the country Academy consultation results have been swept aside and ignored. In an online poll conducted by NAME during the consultation period, 88% of the nearly 200 respondents voted ‘no’ to the question ‘is West Sussex County Council conducting a true consultation?’ We must hold them to be true to the spirit of dialogue with our community. It’s time for the decision-makers to turn back from this process and consult us with real options.”

The NAME campaign has revealed findings that shed light on the Local Authority’s drive towards the Academy proposal. Through Freedom of Information Act requests, and subsequent follow-ups, the picture that emerges of the motives and process behind the decision is at odds with that portrayed by Council representatives, such as Robert Back’s claim of February 5th that the plan had only recently taken shape. When local headteachers met with the Director of Education in November 2006 in order to plan for the future of schooling in the Rother Valley, Robert Back stated “there is no immediate push from us, but we may well respond if there is pressure to push for system change.. Unless there is a clear steer that change is really desired, we would not come to you.”[1] At that stage County claimed that any proposed changes would take three years to implementation[2]. Six months later, an Academy for Midhurst was being discussed by the West Sussex Cabinet[3], and here we are 17 months later with wholesale restructuring planned for September! Pressure has clearly been applied and politically motivated decisions taken. The Department for Children Schools and Families acknowledge meetings between a few key personnel in the West Sussex system and the Minister in charge of Academies, Lord Adonis: “we know that Academy plans were discussed at these meetings, contradicting County’s claim that this was a ‘lucky last minute coincidence’” said NAME campaigner, Lizz Tinder. The DCSF have denied NAME access to minutes of these meetings, saying “The disclosure of early stage discussions [between Adonis and WSCC] is likely to have an impact on the potential Academy projects and so the success of the Academies programme as a whole.”[4] We say, what is there to hide?
With the proposed Academy’s national significance, the stakes are high; but we resist the role of subjects in a political experiment.

[1] Minutes, Rother Valley Schools and CYPS Discussion Meeting, Western Area Professional Centre, Tuesday 28th November, 2006
[2] Minutes, Rother Valley Schools and CYPS Discussion Meeting, Western Area Professional Centre, Tuesday 28th November, 2006
[3] Minutes, WSCC Cabinet, Extract from Action Notes of meeting held on 22nd May, 2007 obtained via Freedom of Information, request, January 3rd, 2008.
[4] DCSF Freedom of Information request response, by e-mail, 28th March, 2008

Friday, 4 April 2008

“The worst that can happen is that you don’t make the progress you wish”

Paul Thompson was one of the many faces in the crowd at the MIS public meeting last Wednesday. He kindly sent this report to NAME.

The consultation meeting on Wednesday 26th March felt more like a ‘presentation’ than a ‘consultation’. A surprisingly large number of people crammed into the hall at MIS, in fact so unexpected were the numbers that there weren’t enough seats available.

There was an opening statement by Dame Jocelyn Barrow on behalf of the independent consultants. Dame Jocelyn informed us that ‘focus groups’ would be held with current students to determine their preferences with regards to the academy proposal, something which I am surprised hasn’t yet happened considering how far through the process we are!

Robert Back from the LEA was the next to speak. He revealed that the LEA was “completely in favour of an academy”, but agreed that “there are lots of strengths in the three tier system”. It shocked me to see how little knowledge Mr. Back has of the area, as he commented about the difficulties of teachers having to travel between the three current schools, something which doesn’t happen as each school has its own teaching staff. He also said that the academy is “the only way to get a 21st century building”, which isn’t true as there is still the option of the ‘building schools for the future’ (BSF) programme. According to Mr. Back however, the academy will “give the same deal but much sooner” which clearly isn’t true, as having a set of state run schools is slightly different to having an education system run by private sponsors. Interestingly, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has commented that in order for an area to be considered for the BSF programme, local authorities are forced to consider including an academy proposal as part of the consultation, indicating that this proposal is being pushed through by unknown hands at Westminster who have no knowledge of the local area. Robert Back also encouraged the audience to dispel any opinions of current academies because “what happens to city academies won’t apply here”, although it is still unclear as to what these differences are. There is apparently an alternative being considered, which involves having smaller school ‘units’ on one site, but there is no mention of this in either the WSCC or ULT’s proposal documents. Mr. Back’s local knowledge was called into question when he commented that “a minibus will be provided to take children home” – a minibus? Does he know how many children will require this service?! Another telling comment by Mr. Back was that “academies receive sufficient money over the first few years”, but no comment was made about funding after the initial stages. My personal favourite quote by Robert Back during the evening was, “the worst that can happen is that you don’t make the progress you wish”. This is completely false. Once the land is given over to the ULT, there is no going back. Also, due to the questionable assessments provided by OFSTED in relation to academies, changes would be slow to be implemented so if the academy begins to fail, problems will take a long time to be corrected. But I suppose we won’t necessarily know if it begins to fail will we? If academies are exempt from the freedom of information act, don’t have to release subject specific exam results and are accountable ONLY to the secretary of state, poor results and standards could quite easily be hidden from the public, including parents.

The ULT then made a presentation which felt more like part of an open evening for the proposed academy. The ULT representative, Mr. Baker, said that they will provide a “download service” allowing teaching plans to be accessed by students. This university style education will surely lead to pupils skipping lessons, and seeing as how the exclusion policy is so strict in academies, the students who take advantage of this system will simply be cast away from the education system entirely. Maybe this is what Mark Dunn meant when he said that the academy’s pupils would be better behaved, because the students in the Midhurst area who are apparently “genetically modified” to be badly behaved won’t be accepted by the academy at all. But of course, this isn’t in any way selective is it?! ULT repeatedly referred to what employers want from the education provided by academies, but no mention was made of what universities may require. Universities will surely find it hard to compare students who learn the national curriculum to those who don’t. Will the qualifications offered by the academy even be considered by universities who follow a strict admissions policy? I also find it hard to believe that universities will choose to enrol students from an education system labelled as ‘failing’, which is undoubtedly what the academy will do. This is confirmed by DfES themselves who say that academies are only considered in areas with failing education systems (or in areas where new schools are needed and seeing as how the local schools already accept the entire catchment area, there is no reasoning for this either). In terms of governance at the proposed academy, the ULT representative as good as admitted that only one parent governor will be retained and that the ten additional governors from the local community would be “technically appointed by ULT” (the other four governors being the principal, one teacher, one staff member and one LEA representative). Mr. Baker also commented that “academies are scrutinised and monitored far more than any school”, which I’m sure everyone will agree is absolute nonsense. Finally, the representative said that “the decision will be made from the feasibility stage”, which contradicts the comments made by a WSCC councillor who commented at a recent town council meeting that the decision HAD been made and that the academy WOULD open in name in September this year. She also said that the consultation process had been badly handled by WSCC, and that she would be referring the matter to County Hall. This comment, which I can only describe as damning for WSCC, calls the whole ‘consultation’ process into question.

Twice during the evening, Robert Back referred to the academy as “the only show in town”. He agreed that “schools like MGS should never have been in special measures and the LEA should have spotted this”. This comment is of course true, but why does WSCC want to label the area as ‘failing’ by putting an academy in the Rother Valley, if we all agree that the education system in the area only went through a glitch and was never really failing? Yet again during the evening the “strong public support for change” was justified by the number of parents wanting a “change towards a two tier system”. Unless I’m very much mistaken, the word ‘academy’ doesn’t feature in the initial consultation, so why is this being used as justification for an academy in Midhurst?

During the question and answer session at the end of the evening, there were only a select few people who spoke out in favour of the academy, with the large majority of those present airing their disapproval of the proposal. There were several excellent questions put to the panel, including very passionate comments by two sixth-formers and one current MGS student. The applause for audience members who spoke out against the proposal was deafening, showing once again that the majority of the local community are not in favour of the academy.

Robert Back agreed that the timescale of the consultation “militates” against students, but that the academy is required to replace the “crumbling edifice” that is the MGS site. Again, I would refer people to the BSF programme which will provide the option of new buildings in a few years. Surely waiting a few more years for nicer buildings is better than being stuck with a sub-standard education provided by unaccountable, private sponsors for decades in the future.

By Paul Thompson (Former pupil of MGS and university graduate)

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Investment in our community schools; no to an Academy

The following blog entry represents our response to a set of questions addressed to us this week by the local press.

Our evidence is drawn from a range of reliable sources including peer-reviewed academic research papers by Farnsworth (2006), Hatcher (2006), Wrigley (2007) and Titcombe (2008) and books by Ball (2007, 2008); the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (2007) and the MPs’ Committee of Enquiry into Academies & Trust Schools (2007); the 2006 PricewaterhouseCoopers Academies Report commissioned by the Government.

Investment in our community schools; no to an Academy

Academies are schools runs by sponsors on the basis of a ‘funding agreement’ – a kind of contract – drawn up with the government. They are outside local authority control. The sponsors have control of the governing body, and some freedom to shape the curriculum. They do not have to comply with national pay and conditions regulations over how and whom they employ. This first rural Academy may seem like a ‘bold experiment’, but it is not in the best long term interests of its guinea pigs – our children.

The Academies programme remains untested, but such official evaluations as there are, such as the National Audit Office and House of Commons Public Accounts Committee reports cast serious doubt on Academies’ success in achieving results, the role of sponsors and Academies’ cost effectiveness.

1. Are Academies selective in their admissions?

There has been lots of evidence to MPs about Academies’ overt and covert admissions and exclusions practices which have enabled them to skew their intakes in favour of those from higher-achieving backgrounds. Much of the evidence in this area emerges over the longer term: those Academies which have been in existence longest have the most unrepresentative admissions. Many Academies have a significantly lower proportion of children receiving free school meals than their predecessor schools.

2. Are they accountable?

Only eight inspectors lead OfSTED inspections for all Academies. Under a 2004 protocol, OfSTED have a more supportive role for Academies than for other schools, compromising their independence. Academies do not have to publish their results by subject. They are answerable only to Secretary of State, not local communities, and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and, whilst we can choose not to elect councillors with whom we disagree, we’re stuck with the sponsors indefinitely.

3.Are they democratic? ie Is the community represented on the governing body and do communities get a say in the decision to set them up?

By law, the sponsor must have a majority holding on the governing body. For this new school of 1500, we would have only one teacher, one support staffmember and one parent who would not be ULT appointees. Those ‘community-members’ appointed by ULT are unlikely to represent parents’ and staff’s views. The community neither elected ULT nor invited them to take control of our school.

4. How do Academies perform in league tables?

Government claims that Academies raise standards are unproven, because their full exam data is kept secret. NAO reports and academic research often point to faster improvement under LA management before sell-off. Where Academies show marginal success, this is mostly for the higher-achieving children and can be partly accounted for by changes in pupil intake and the skewing of the curriculum. The use of vocational qualifications which count for four GCSEs has increased 12-fold in Academies, artificially boosting results in the short term.

5. What about exclusion policies?

Some Academies exclude children at up to ten times the National average rate. Children excluded from the proposed Midhurst Academy would have to travel some considerable distance to a local authority school. When Academies expel pupils, the local authority is left to pick up the bill for educating them – the Academy keeps the money. Proposed Midhurst Academy sponsor board-member, Richard Tice, favours removing parents’ right to appeal such decisions.

6. The setting up of Academies has been described as the privitisation of state edcuation, what is your view?

Privatisation ain’t what it used to be! Most commentators agree that new forms of privatisation blur the public-private boundry, and open the door for ‘flexibilisation’, ‘branding’ cost-cutting and competition now, and, sub-contracting, profit-making and buy-outs at a later date. Academies mark the first stage in a process of marketisation which may be completed by future governments. Make no mistake, you’re being sold the ULT brand! Hard-sell is not what schooling should be all about.

7. It has been said that local authorities are being 'bullied into accepting Academies to get money', is this true?

Many Academy ‘consultations’, including our own, are rushed and flawed and have no regard for the long term impact of school closure and relocation on communities. ‘Stakeholders’ often feel blackmailed into accepting an Academy, with little time to think through their own priorities for their communities: “no Academy, no investment!” WSCC said in November 2006 that it would not change education in the Rother valley unless under external pressure. Both the pressure and decision are highly political.

8. Are Academies fair on existing and new staff?

The MPs’ Committee of Enquiry documents Academies’ high staff turn-over rate and discriminatory employment practices. Support staff in Academies have seen their conditions worsen, and new teachers recruited to ULT Academies have been employed on contracts far less favourable than those transferred from local authority employment. Employees’ maternity rights have been eroded. Unqualified staff have often taken on teaching roles and the new Principal need not be a qualified teacher.

A positive future

What can ULT give us that a good community school cannot? It is children’s interests which should come first, not sponsors’. We believe in a positive future for Rother Valley community schools, retaining our influence over the use of our taxes, and upholding the rights of parents and children to a broad, rich curriculum. We do need investment in our schools, and we want to work with the Local Authority and governors rather than against them to ensure this investment is delivered. The rules for Midhurst’s Academy would be drawn up in a funding agreement between sponsor and government, and until we have seen it, we cannot know what we are being consulted upon. We reject the spin presented by sponsors and glossy ‘consultation’ exercises which are no more than advertising opportunities. However, we urge Rother Valley residents to complete the questionnaire (online at;jsessionid=awKNDaseJOHf ) and let councillors know what you think. It’s just like voting: if you don’t vote, you can’t moan about the government you get. If you don’t respond now, you cannot complain when you look back on the year the educational heart was torn from our community.

Anti-Academies Alliance (2007) Report on the MPs Committee of Enquiry into Academies and Trust Schools, London: AAA
Ball, S. (2007) Education plc. Understanding private sector participation in public sector education, London: Routledge
Ball. S. (2008) The Education Debate, Bristol: The Policy Press
Farnsworth, K. (2006) ‘Business in education: a reassessment of the contribution of outsourcing to LEA performance’, Journal of Education Policy 21 (4) 485-496
Gorard, S. (2005) ‘Academies as “The Future of Schooling”: Is This an Evidence-Based Policy?’ The Journal of Education Policy, 20 (3)
Hatcher, R. (2006) ‘Privatization and sponsorship: the re-agenting of the school system in England’, The Journal of Education Policy, 21 (5) 599-619
House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts (2007) The Academies Programme: Fifty-second Report of Session 2006-07, London: TSO
National Audit Office (2007) The Academies Programme: Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, London: The Stationary Office
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (2006) Academies Evaluation: Third Annual Report, Nottingham: DfES Publications
Titcombe, R. (2008) ‘How Academies Threaten the Comprehensive Curriculum’, Forum, 50 (1)
Wrigley, T. (2007) Report on academic success of the Academies programme,

Archived Material

It's the start of April and the end of the WSCC consultation phase. We're receiving a high volume of hits and there seem to be many new people checking the blog. So if you are a virtual new visitor, welcome. And also, do check, if you have time, some of our older posts to see how the campaign and opinions have evolved over these few short weeks. Futhermore, people are still commenting on older posts, and it's worth checking out what others have to say, too. (not everyone who comments is a fan of NAME!)

At the moment, the best way to see archived material is to click on whichever month you want to look at first, which will take you to a new page with that month's blog posts. You can find this under "Blog Archive" on the navigation bar on the left of the main web page. To see the comments, or to leave one, click on the heading of the entry which will take you to a separate page showing the blog entry, followed by the comments and an option to click at the bottom to post comments. Alternatively, you can just click on the yellow writing at the bottom of any entry which states the number of comments which will take you to a page specifically for posting a comment.

I am trying to find a way to make easy hyperlinks within this blog without messing up things I've already done. I'm not good with HTML at the moment and am very swamped with things. As soon as I can, I will try to give you an easy list of linked posts with in one post.