B’Ham primary “requested” by DfE to convert puts sponsorship on hold but DfE database gives conversion date

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In February 2012, Radio 4 reported how the Department for Education (DfE) was using intimidation to enforce academy conversion in primary schools including some in Birmingham.

In May 2012, a Birmingham newspaper wrote:

“But there is a cloak of secrecy surrounding which schools are being converted, with many parents being kept in the dark, as governors and staff are fearful of speaking out and considering not taking the academy route. It is understood that all the schools approached have been told that they must apply or their governors will be removed so that the application can be moved forward.”

The article linked to a letter, dated 11 May 2012, from one of the schools, Colmers Farm Junior, to parents. It said:

“…the school received a formal visit from a representative of the Department of Education requesting that the Governing Body proceed with initiating the process of converting to an academy. This was presented to the Governors last Wednesday evening by the above representatives.”

In 2011, Ofsted said Colmers Farm Junior Schools needed significant improvement. Its overall effectiveness was Inadequate despite providing an “acceptable standard of education, with teaching and the curriculum both satisfactory.”

Inspectors returned to monitor Colmers in January 2012 before it was targeted. They found Colmers was making satisfactory progress towards addressing issues identified in the 2011 inspection: the school had made “considerable strides in improving classroom practice”.

In 2012, the proportion reaching Level 4 in Key Stage 2 Sats was 73% just below the national average of 75%. Ofsted reappeared in June 2012 and judged Colmers to be Satisfactory: governance was good and inspectors praised the head and phase leaders for driving improvement “with determination and vision”.

But that was too late to stop the academy conversion process begun when the DfE representative had made the school's governing body an offer it couldn't refuse.

In 2013, 82% reached Level 4, 7 percentage points above the national average of 75%. Such an improving school would be a fruitful picking for an academy chain and a government wanting to say any future improvement was down to the involvement of the sponsor.

According to the DfE website, Edubase, Colmers Farm is due to close on 31 December 2014 and become a sponsored academy. The Birmingham Mail, 3 January 2014, reported Colmers had already converted with AET as a sponsor.

This is odd, because in November 2013, Governors at Colmers Farm told parents they'd received a letter from schools minister Lord Nash which “raised concerns about AET’s capacity to manage additional schools”. Governors wrote to Lord Nash asking for conversion to be postponed because Governors weren’t satisfied with the “guarantees of quality support”.

But the DfE has jumped the gun. It’s already fixed a date for proposed closure. And someone has told the Birmingham Mail that AET sponsors Colmers Farm. Could it have been that anonymous source, the DfE spokesperson?

NOTES: BBC Radio 4 The Report on enforced academy conversion can still be heard here.

This is a companion piece to Henry Stewart’s exposure of factual errors in DfE claims about how Birmingham primary schools had improved after becoming sponsored academies.
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