Academies : from a Tory Council Leader's Perspective

Sarah Dobbs's picture
 14
Just wanted to share this radio interview I took part in today with the portfolio holder for Children's Services at Lincolnshire County Council.

Nobody could in any way interpret this as an endorsement of the policy from her , and I am fascinated to hear her talk about how it represents centralisation and control back to government, as opposed to it being retained within communities. Lets hope that we can move to a really full and honest dialogue about the issues within the county.

 

The interview is on after 1 hour and 5 minutes.
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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 19/07/2011 - 18:24

Well done, Sarah. You made the point clearly that decisions about academy conversions are being made by Lincolnshire schools based on fear of what will happen to schools left behind in a local authority whose education services will no longer be viable once a large proportion of schools opt out.

What was striking about the councillor's comments was that she was saying what people on this site have been saying for months: that the academy conversion programme is a way of placing schools in the centralised control of the Government. However, I think Lincolnshire councillors have let Lincolnshire people down - this should have been debated long before now, and certainly before CfBT and Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) sent out letters to primary schools asking them to discuss academy conversion - letters which carried the logos of CfBT and LCC. In the letter CfBT made it clear that one advantage of Lincolnshire primary schools becoming academies was "to provide a means by which schools can achieve higher levels of funding.” The letter also claimed that the proposal had "senior member endorsement”. Yet it doesn't seem to have been discussed by councillors (see side bar for further details including response to a Freedom of Information request in April).

Alan's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 19:13

From the interview there are born several contradictions:

“It’s important to retain LA schools for local accountability”

“Academies should work with LAs to retain local accountability”

I’m confused, which is it?

Why was there no reflection on the effectiveness of the past four decades of education in Louth and surrounding areas, e.g. the merits of a comprehensive system over the current one?

The councillor’s analysis of the current position was pretty darn accurate, they do need to encourage conversion due to depleting funding for LA schools.

“Dialogue with teachers, the staffroom and heads.”

There was no reference to parents or children in Mablethorpe which is unforgivable considering Louth’s campaign has arrived in our town through the backdoor – These views DO NOT represent the majority.

It would have been more productive to involve families, to talk openly about the effects of selective education on equality of opportunity to seek new ways for joining up services to circumvent differences rather than playing for power.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 19:45

Alan
1) Both quotes - about local accountability via the local authority and academies also needing to "opt in" to a layer of accountability are equally true. Check out Sheffield City Council's plans to see that this can be effective, and that many areas are trying.
2) As for Mablethorpe, I have not taken our campaign to either the front door or taken it to the back. What I do have is a great level of support from staff and governors from both the school involved in the campaign and other local schools. They approached me quite willingly and have joined quite happily and productively.
3) In the interview, I don't think I talked about Louth. So why would I talk about Mablethorpe? I was told to keep it general and county wide, which is, as far as I am concerned, what I managed to do.
4) As for not representing the majority view - the results of our local survey, which I will post here tomorrow totally blow that out of the water.
5) I have families throughout the group. Do not dare accuse me of not being interested in either issues surrounding selection or equality of opportunity.
6) Please qualify the "playing the power" dig.

Alan's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 19:51

” The letter also claimed that the proposal had “senior member endorsement”.

I 'wonder' who HE might be....the devil is in the Janus-faced detail

Alan's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 19:57

6 is self-explanatory, the rest, party political

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 20:47

I'm fairly ignorant of the local situation in Lincolnshire, but did read that there are 15 grammar schools, and that Caistor Grammar School and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School have gone for Academy status so the policy has, in effect, given more money to selective schools, which seems unfair. Aren't the non-selective schools going to miss out if they don't go for the extra money involved?

Alan's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 21:33

That's a good point and could explain the rush to convert, if so, it would have been planned from the outset - top slices budget, etc. Resources have always be skewed in Lincolnshire in favour of selection so perhaps the real reason to convert has more to do with LA control than I thought - not sure. But then again, free markets should encourage competition to level the field. But until people come clean over motives in favour or against academies might as well look to the stars.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 22:17

My opposition to academies has always been up front Alan.
And part of that is that free markets do not level the field, they make existing inequality worse.

Alan's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 08:45

I have no problem with you personally – I don’t know you. I assumed because you were willing to be a spokesperson that you would welcome an analysis of your conversation with the other councillor on the radio show.

On the point of withdrawal from the Louth academies merger ambiguity exists over what has in fact been said – have minutes been published? I may have mistaken the grammar situation but think I read that they had withdrawn sometime ago but did intend to provide post 16 for other schools?

I think the debate on academies has lost sight of who this matters to most, there should be more emphasis on EYFS, for example. I would rather join forces on selection than go it alone. However, there’s no consensus on the effects of selection set aside from excellence for all. To reiterate, focus should be on the abolition of the 11+ and not the grammar school system. I do realise however that no one on this forum appears to want to separate the two for obvious political reasons.

To proclaim that Lincolnshire achieves the best results in the country is a distortion. Selection by 11+ rejects about 50 per cent of children year on year, e.g. out of about 1500 students in 2010 in the Mablethorpe / Alford area across three secondary modern/grammar schools only 127 places were available post 16 in the designated FE college, the grammar school, and only about 18 of these places were allocated to students from schools other than the grammar school. Bus fares to post 16 are set to double effectively pricing students from poor families out of the A Level market who have to travel large distances to FE. This is in sharp contrast to taxpayer £k spent on students to attend a private sixth form college in Stamford. No success for many pre-academisation so I can’t see the new system being any worse?

When we talk about Lincolnshire being in the top percentile for attainment nationally let’s analyse all of the data. E.g., why are students with SEN and disabilities excluded from grammar schools (I don’t accept the dumbing down argument or that the 11+ is a test of competence at such a young age)? Why isn’t more consideration given to children’s individual developmental milestones in the 11+ standardisation process (there are many factors surrounding age)? Why do we exclude the effects of selection on nearby secondary modern schools in CVS scores? Why are students from wealthy families over-represented in grammar schools? Why is coaching openly encouraged in Lincolnshire and what are the effects of not being able to keep up with the curriculum post-11+? I have many more questions on selection. Will the public consultation on academies provide an opportunity to air them?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 07:12

Despite the rush by schools in Lincolnshire to convert, the National Grammar Schools Association urged "extreme" caution in its newsletter of May 2011.

http://www.ngsa.org.uk/nlet-may2011.php

Nevertheless, Lincolnshire grammar schools have rushed to convert attracted by offers of money as this consultation letter from Bourne Grammar School (BGS) makes clear:

http://www.bourne-grammar.lincs.sch.uk/dlf09/100927170212_Consultation%2...

Bourne Grammar School's attempts to convert were held up by the decision of Bourne United Charities (BUC), who have foundation governers on the governing body, to veto the proposal. BUC reasons included worries about ownership of land, removal of selective (unfounded) and that opting-out of LA control would lead the school into uncharted territory.

http://www.stamfordmercury.co.uk/news/bourne_united_charities_statement_...

However, the Charity has now changed its mind following a meeting at the school which included the local MP, Nick Boles, and a representative from the Department for Education. The Charity's response is below. An interesting paragraph in its response is:

"Selection has been a major part of the admission process to the school and therefore an integral part of the Legal Status. The Government could at any time remove selection although this seems unlikely. Under the terms of the Academy Trust both the D of E and the BGS have to give 7 years notice to terminate the contract of the Trust. However, this could be waivered in certain circumstances by the Secretary of State and the length of notice depends on the reason why it was necessary."

So it would appear that the seven years' notice can be "waivered in certain circumstances by the Secretary of State". This begs the question as to what these "certain circumstances" would be. Also interesting is the statement that the Government could remove selection. If so, could a future Labour government remove selection from all academies which were former grammar schools?

No mention is made in the Charity's response about their original concerns about opting-out of LA control.

http://www.bourneunitedcharities.co.uk/Bourne-Grammar-School-Response.php

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/07/2011 - 11:39

The concerns of Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) don’t just apply to Lincolnshire but to any county particularly where schools are spread over a wide area. However, the problems will be worse in counties like Lincolnshire and Kent where Grammar schools still exist.

LCC foresees problems arising from government education policy and what it describes as the atomising of the school community:

1Small schools will be put “at serious risk”. 67% of Lincolnshire schools have less than 180 pupils.
2Raising floor standards together with the expansion of pre-Grammar academies will put secondary modern schools “at serious risk”.
3School support services could be lost. The Council has already said it intends “to decommission these services” if they become unviable.
4Despite academies being outside local authority control, the general public will still perceive Lincolnshire LA to be responsible. Lincolnshire LA could be blamed for problems which are outside its control.
5Lincolnshire can’t make decisions about capital funding until the government responds to the James Review (delayed).
6Strategic planning will be undermined if school provision is driven through choice.
7Allowing popular schools to expand will impact badly on less popular schools. Far from increasing parental choice, this could be reduced as unsustainable schools close.
8Transport costs (paid for by government grant and council taxpayers) would increase. LCC already spends £27 million on school transport.

Perhaps Mr Gove should have thought about the implications of his academy and free school policy before rushing the Academy Bill through Parliament in August last year. Only now is it dawning on local authorities what the true implications are.
http://62.172.185.189:8080/minicms/CommRecDisplay.do;jsessionid=A2458494...

Alan's picture
Fri, 22/07/2011 - 16:11

I have downloaded the scrutiny report, will read and comment later.

Re: point 8 - non-selective education by choice in rural areas is extremely limited; £27 million has never extended beyond a 6 mile radius of catchment school so children from poor families are limited more by cost of transport rather than school choice. Private bus companies will not provide discounted tickets to out of catchment schools – their reason, children who miss school days due to sickness so too loose money on pre-payment bus tickets.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/07/2011 - 17:11

The financial cost of schooling, including transport, was one of the reasons cited by OECD for low-income families choosing the nearest school. That is one reason why the government should make sure that all children have access to a good, local school instead of talking about letting the market decide.

Alan's picture
Fri, 22/07/2011 - 21:11

I agree, I refer to OECD via email subscription and did pick up this thread. Transport costs do affect education choice in our area. Some choose schools several miles away that teach GCSEs as an alternative to BTEC (not knocking BTEC). However, there are no concessionary bus fares beyond 6 miles so some families don’t have a choice. Do you know what percentage of £27 million is allocated for transport to grammar schools?

Apart from the aforesaid the scrutiny paper appears fairly unbiased. Having 26 academies doesn’t yet mean we have reached a tipping point in terms of economies of scale. LCC are trying to maintain their duties in the Education Act 1996, which is encouraging, and they do recognise the threat to floor targets for secondary modern schools in grammar school localities. However, they fail to explicate further the special challenges children face in Mablethorpe do to limited FE places, there is no reference to a remedy.

Without doubt the local authority should continue to provide and coordinate support services to schools, as the single biggest threat, set apart from education, would be to fail to provide for 0-5 and extended schools. Option 3 appears to be the councils preferred option which makes sense considering established links with CfBT. However, I can see why this has raised doubts over in Louth.

Whatever the academies outcome my preference would be for LCC to retain its support links with schools and to consider joining up support services with NE Lincolnshire.

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