Stories + Views
How schools rig the consultation process in favour of academy conversion
When you have a moment to spare take a look at this letter from a Head teacher and Chair of Governors on the matter of academy conversion. I found it on the schools website. It is presented as part of a ‘consultation process’ which, at face value, appears to be an open and genuine consultation. But the truth is that this is an outrageously unbalanced and rigged consultation.
The only consideration of argument that raises doubts about the conversion process is dealt with in a single sentence:
“There are risks and the governors are aware of those and we are anticipating how best to manage these effectively through a comprehensive risk assessment strategy”.
In a patronising flourish, we are not even told what the risks are, just that there are some and the governors have got it all sorted! Contrast this with the effusive comments made in favour of conversion. The five main reasons are set out in detail over about 15 paragraphs. And the claims for academy conversion are hardly modest:
“As an Academy we will provide a better education for all our students”
“As an Academy we will work closely with others”
“As an Academy we will build on our successes and secure even better outcomes in the future”
Presented in this way, who could disagree with academy status? Which parent or member of staff would dare to question such authoritative opinions of the head teacher and leadership team?
Herein lie the secrets of academy conversion: bluster, grandiose assertion and adept political manoeuvring.
I was recently leafleting outside a primary school in my area that is seeking conversion. Parents had asked us to organise a meeting to consider the issues. The head came out and said we did not need to have a meeting because she was doing a proper consultation. I asked if she was in favour of conversion. She was. I asked who was putting arguments for conversion. She was. I asked who was putting the arguments against conversion. She… She stopped mid-sentence. She could see, in instant, the absurdity of her consultation process.
She scurried away, but the parents meeting was a great success. They heard from a Somali community worker, the leader of the Local Council, a representative of a teachers’ union and a representative of a support staff union. The meeting was chaired by one of the local ward councillors. The parents were so concerned they launched a petition calling for the consultation process to be extended and balanced. Many left the meeting firmly opposed to conversion and keen to do more.
Given that the move to academy status is currently irreversible, includes substantial changes to the structure of governance and accountability affecting both parents and staff profoundly, it would seem reasonable that all stakeholders had a chance to present their views on an equal footing and in an open debate.
A year ago, when Michael Gove published his Academies Bill he knew that, in such circumstances, promoters of academy conversion where likely to fall foul of the that same hostility to privatisation that afflicts the Tories’ plans for the NHS. That’s why the first draft of the Bill had no consultation process at all.
It was amended in the Lords to require only that governors consult ‘who they see fit’ and even that could happen after the decision had been made! Thus Gove set in motion a process in which business minded head teachers, lured by the siren sounds of ‘autonomy’ and the promise of extra cash were encouraged into the wretched conversion process that now debases our school system and local democracy.
In far too many cases, academy conversion has been a coup forced through by a minority. The whole process sucks. I would add that it is bad policy based on fake claims, but that’s another story.
Heads and governors who travel down this route not only damage their own integrity, but more seriously, they disrupt the fabric of our local democracy and with it the security of our family of schools.
Anti Academies Alliance conference is Sat 11th June. You can register here: