Lincolnshire County Council and the fear factor

Rob Shorrock's picture
 8
I am a local councillor and school governor in Grantham. I am appalled at the way Lincolnshire County Council has decided with minimal consultation to encourage all schools to become academies. What is worse, is that the existing school improvement agency for the county, CfBT, will become the trust sponsor. This leaves schools with no independent and impartial body to seek advice from in making decisions.

I have written the following column in the local paper, the Grantham Journal (7th October 2011)

Over recent months there has been huge debate about schools becoming academies - the issue of Kings losing its grammar school status caused much concern.

Lincolnshire County Council in a typical cost-cutting move has decided that all schools in Lincolnshire should become academies, so it doesn’t have to fund them.

Its preferred model is to hand them all over to CfBT, an educational charity that currently supplies advisory services, who will claim the funds directly from the government to run these schools.

Whatever you think about academies, the real worry is that CfBT does not have any obligation to tell you what it is doing. Unlike the county council, it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The issue for schools is this: if the county council has decided that they should be academies and their advisory service want to run the academies, where do schools get unbiased and impartial information in deciding what to do?

Add to this the fear factor - the county council has said it does not know how it will continue to support those schools who decide not to become academies - then genuine choice is being eroded.

It should be remembered that for all the talk and passion about freedom, all these academies will be under the control of the Secretary of State for Education. He has the powers to decide how much schools will be funded and more ominously what should be taught.

He can also close any of these schools down if he so wishes and will be the sole arbiter of complaints about schools from parents.

Central control is expensive, and there will inevitably be a new funding agency that will suck money away from the frontline.

My question is: where is the debate? The LEA has made this decision with minimal consultation with the public. Thankfully, an organisation called Save Lincolnshire Schools is petitioning the council to call for a full debate and consultation. You can the sign the petition here.

 
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Comments

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/10/2011 - 12:03

The downside of academy conversion as a whole, and the Lincolnshire situation in particular, have been regularly discussed on this site. Parents and the public are only told the so-called benefits of conversion - more money, more "freedom" - and so on. They are not told that they as parents will not be able to complain to local councillors if they have unresolved problems with an academy - they will have to take such problems to the Secretary of State. They are not told that the Academy Trust that runs the school is under no obligation to have local people on its governing body, nor that the schools will have to take on a huge burden of legal and administrative responsibilities, or pay someone else to do it for them. They are not told that if the school becomes part of an academy chain the school could end up with less freedom than before. They are not told that tiny rural schools will be under threat of closure if larger schools become academies and the council can no longer afford to provide support for non-academy schools. They are not told that local authorities may close down certain services if they are no longer viable. They are not told that the local authority will have no power to close academies or any free schools - this makes it impossible for local authorities to plan school provision.

Rob, you are right. There has been no debate, only one-sided propaganda.

Emma's picture
Mon, 10/10/2011 - 21:01

I am a member of staff at a Primary School in the Nottinghamshire LEA. Following our last Ofsted inspection, the school went into special measures. We were advised by our LEA that we had 2 years to get out of this category and to this end a plan for improvement was created. However, the entire staff of the school were called to an 'extraordinary meeting' on Thurs 6 October at which we were told that we would become an academy within approx a 5 week timeframe. Our Governors were given no choice in the matter. They were told that if they didn't agree in principle, the LEA would replace them with their own executive body who would ratify the decision. Staff had no consultation on the matter and because we are the first Primary in Notts to be forced down this route, we have not been able to seek guidance from others in this situation. We have now spoken with the NUT and Unison reps who assure us that we can fight against this decision. However, many of the staff do not feel able to make an informed decision about how to respond, due to the lack of information out their about forced Primary academies. The LEA painted a glorious, rosy picture about how this is the best outcome for the school and the Unions paint a very bleak view of how this will affect us as educators.
I would like to know who do our Governors talk to to find out about the choices available to them? They are committed to our school and want the best, however, I am not convinced that are aware of alternatives.

Is there anyone out there in this situation who can help us with information?

Are there any teachers out there that have been through this process who can tell us about their experience of what it is like to work in an 'Academy'?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 11/10/2011 - 06:37

Emma - get in touch with the Anti-Academies Alliance, they should be able to help. Also the NUT and the NASUWT have downloadable guidance on the downside of academy conversion. Get the local media involved. Involve parents. Your schools and its governing body are being subjected to bullying - there is no place for this in a democratic society.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 11/10/2011 - 08:09

Emma,
Have a look at the new website set up by David Wolfe, a barrister at Matrix Chambers, to advise parents, governors and teachers about the legal situation surrounding academies and free schools. If you have specific questions you can e-mail David.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/10/2011 - 13:32

At Cockermouth School there was a proper and extensive public consultation. Because the school is popular and oversubscribed the financial implications of not becoming an academy were to be nasty.

This was the result
http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/news-focus/cockermouth-school-morally-...

Hence why there is substantial pressure on schools to not have consultations.

Emma's picture
Tue, 11/10/2011 - 19:16

We have now spoken at length with all the Unions involved, we have the toolkit and are now about the compose letters to the press, parents and MPs. We have invited our union reps to attend the next meeting with the LEA. We do feel bullied and the rushed timeframe hints at the political agenda here. Governors are now looking into 3 prospective 'sponsors' one of which is E-Act: Mmmmm, £265k CEO salaries and redundancies!!!

Thanks also for the weblink from Fiona, this site is great, we are intending to get all staff together to look at this to help us formulate our caqmpaign.

I've now spent this evening doing 'academy business' so I really do have to get on with some actual planning/assessment so that day to day business continues.

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I'm sure I'll have more to say on this matter.

Thanks for taking the time to reply: I'll probably be writing again soon.

Emma's picture
Tue, 11/10/2011 - 19:19

Thanks Rebecca, I have printed this out to show staff.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/10/2011 - 19:43

If you want a rubrik for how a consultation is done properly, I'd suggest phoning Cockermouth School up and asking them if they can send you one. It involved separate consultations for staff, students, parents, parents of feeder schools and the wider community as well as online discussion forums as far as I remember. It was very open and very clearly intended not to bias the outcome, just to allow exploration of the issues.

At each the head stated that his duty was to educate the children according to the wish of the community from which they came so he would express no opinion, simply try to answer questions about facts.

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