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

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