Stories + Views
The school “jumped before it was pushed,” admits governor of community school faced with academy conversion
Hockwold Primary School and Methwold High School in Norfolk amalgamated in September 2011 to become the all-through Hockwold and Methwold Community School. In 2009 Ofsted judged both predecessor schools as satisfactory. In February 2011 an Ofsted monitoring team found Maths teaching at the High School was good and noted that “10 students have progressed to mathematics degree courses in higher education.”
In February 2012, barely a term after amalgamation, Ofsted judged the school inadequate. Inspectors said attainment had fallen since 2009. It is unclear how inspectors came to this conclusion when Year 6 cohorts had been too small in two of the previous three years to make a proper assessment and when the 2011 GCSE results were the same as in 2009. However, Ofsted found serious weaknesses in literacy which the school needed to address.
The Governors decided there was only one option – convert to academy status before it was enforced. The school “jumped before it was pushed,” said the Chair of Governors and admitted they had little choice. Nevertheless, he’s positive about the move as he expected all schools to be academies in five years’ time.
The school’s chosen sponsor is the Academy Transformation Trust (ATT) whose director, Ian Cleland, is outgoing Chief Executive of Ormiston Academies Trust. ATT will take over other Norfolk schools: Swaffham Hamond High School and Queensway Community Junior School whose head wrote, “The Academy Transformation Trust is made up of some excellent companies and charities that will be able to add to our school as it has extensive experience of improving schools. The companies are Gaia Technologies who are a national leader in new technologies, the Andrew Mawson Partnership, a charity who supports community development, and ASPECT who are a leading organisation in supporting school improvement professionals. Added to this there is also Equity Solutions who are a partner organisation to the Trust. This company has extensive experience of building, running and maintaining health and education community facilities.”
ATT was not incorporated until November 2011 so it’s difficult to understand how it could have built up “extensive experience of improving schools” in so short a time. Perhaps the head meant Ormiston Academies Trust registered in August 2009. But a period of two-and-a-half years is still a short time scale in which to “improve schools”. Or perhaps she is referring to Equity Solutions which has been involved in Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) projects since 2004. LIFT is a smaller version of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which was criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO) in April 2011: “…in the current climate, the use of private finance may not be as suitable for as many projects as it has been in the past.”
In 2010 the NAO warned about potential conflict of interest when academy sponsors provided services. This is being ignored by the present Government. It has created a situation where more academy chains provide services which their academies will be expected to buy. In return the academies become part of a corporate “brand” which is likely to allow schools less freedom than they had before conversion. John Burn, ex-principal of an academy, warned about this loss of autonomy in his evidence to Parliament.
How many more schools feel they must “jump before they are pushed”? And how many will find they have left their local authority only to be locked into a chain with links to private firms whose first duty is to maximise profits for shareholders?