The governors at my local secondary vote to convert it to an Academy

Francis Gilbert's picture
Last night, the governors at my local secondary school, Bethnal Green Technology College, backed the headteacher to turn the school into an Academy. The whole issue has caused considerable disquiet in the Borough with councilors speaking out against the conversion. As I've said before, I'm supporting the headteacher because the school is determined to remain a genuine local school in its admissions, in its educational approach and in the way it deals with the local community. Indeed, I think it should be a model for Academy conversion. Too many conversions have been made by schools which are seeking to make their admissions' policies more selective -- or maintain very selective admissions policies such as Reading Grammar.

I do hope the school succeeds, partly for personal reasons (my son's going there in September) but also because I hope it can show what can be done when an Academy isn't run by an Edu-chain, isn't selective, and aims to be a genuine community school. It's investigating working with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) to become a genuine co-operative school.
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Alan's picture
Fri, 08/07/2011 - 08:08

Looks like you’re making progress on academy conversion, that you cater for students of all abilities and are thinking of becoming an 11-19 school. I like the concept of co-operative schools, social responsibility and inter-dependence as there’s potential for parental involvement in extended schools to turn lives round in deprived areas. This can be difficult in areas where there are pockets of affluence. And of course, contextual value added doesn’t factor-in the effects of a secondary modern operating in a grammar school county. But looking on the positive, wouldn’t it be great if there could be a national governor scheme whereby we could visit one another’s schools, irrespective of curricula delivery, to gain insights on improvement from differing contexts?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 08/07/2011 - 09:17

That's an excellent idea Alan. Yes, a national governor's scheme would be brilliant. Would it be possible for you to outline how this might work and illustrate the benefits -- perhaps in a separate post? That's what it's all about, schools making significant connections and really co-operating, whatever their status.

Helen Flynn's picture
Fri, 08/07/2011 - 14:39

I am a governor at a school that converted in March. I have no doubt that the school will continue to be inclusive, and will collaborate as much as possible with other schools, and that essentially it won't really change in terms of how it operates now, and the pupil experience.

The head has a great idea that he and I have discussed at great length before, about all six schools in the immediate town, working loosely together to bring about the best possible educational outcomes for all the children of the town. And this is where I genuinely think autonomy can have a significant effect, ie if all schools are working together with a common aim for all children locally. They would be able to share the costs of back office functions, share CPD, administer admissions and exclusions jointly, maybe even combine sixth forms to provide a brilliant offer of provision of courses for children in the town.

But now the snag. Already one school (an academy) has gone into an arrangement with an academy chain in the next county, meaning it is excluded from potential collaborative arrangements with other local schools. One of the other schools is a Catholic school and the diocese, in common with other dioceses, is working collaboratively with other Catholic schools in the county under the new academy arrangements that have been laid down centrally by the Catholic Church, so it too is excluded from collaborative arrangements. The C of E school, is just converting and may yet decide to collaborate, but is the middle of appointing a new head, so it is a case of "watch this space", though, encouragingly, the governors seem keen. One school, luckily our neighbouring school, is definitely interested and is in the middle of the process of becoming an academy. The final school is committed to staying as a community school and the head will not budge.

So the net result is a definite 2 from 6--maybe 3 depending on the C of E school. What this means is that our head is now busy forming arrangements with other, similar (ie middle class, outstanding, academy) schools in other towns--not geographically near, so no chance of real benefits to pupils educationally and socially-- so that back office efficiencies can be achieved, forming an "exclusive" informal chain of schools.

In terms of local benefit for the children of both the school where I am governor and the town in general, this makes no sense. I think in some towns the local, co-op approach will work where all schools are embraced and are active partners, and these areas will be beacons of good practice and will be able to provide fabulous educational and social opportunities for their local children, with concomitant greater opportunities for community cohesion.

But let's not fool ourselves that this is going to happen everywhere. Much of the thrust behind Gove's "reforms" I am sure is divisive, using a "divide and rule" approach where a patchwork of provision is guaranteed.

Gove's massive failure in his envisioning (if he is capable of such a thing), is to have not envisioned a locally joined up state school system (and I am not necessarily espousing the current LA model here--it does have some flaws), that can make best use of school autonomy whilst guaranteeing: a level playing field for all; equality of opportunity; and a measure of social cohesion.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 08/07/2011 - 17:50

Thanks for this Helen. Yes, it seems that the net effect of the Academies programme in your area is very divisive. I do think it needs to be properly regulated. As I've said before, Gove being a free-marketeer in many ways (though not all, especially with regards to the curriculum) is causing chaos. But a sensible (and very energetic) Secretary of State might be able to begin to sort the mess out by insisting the funding agreements are re-written. Because power is being centralised, grammar schools and other selective schools are much more vulnerable to having their admissions' policies changed by a fair-minded Education Secretary if they are Academies.

Alan's picture
Fri, 08/07/2011 - 21:32

Thanks for your kind comments Francis. The national governor scheme idea is simplistic - basically schools invite governors from across the UK to visit each other’s schools, helping to dispel myths of competing systems and to share what works. I think we've reached a tipping point on academy conversion so it’s time to move on for the sake of our children.

Helen, I agree schools should collaborate locally, but as you have said this is fraught with difficulties, so I wasn’t thinking particularly of schools becoming active partners, but rather, the establishment of consortia to facilitate a pooling of resources in areas of social variance, a joining up of practice between Health, Education and Social Care in line with , and ahead of, reforms to special educational needs but on a much smaller scale and with help from social investment, for example, The Big Lottery Fund.

I am also a school governor, and as a dyslexic, have an interest in the work of Graham Allen MP on Early Intervention. He calls for an integrated Cross Party approach to tackling disadvantage by focusing on five pathways to underattainment and poverty: Family breakdown; educational failure; economic dependence; addiction; and debt. His strategy considers underlying causes rather than symptoms as a cost-effective measure for turning round a generation of wasted talent within about 15-20 years.

Contrary to media perceptions, most dyslexics aren’t entrepreneurs, dyslexia affects 10 per cent of the population and two-thirds of young people in YOIs have some form of language difficulty – leaving school with no qualifications increases the probability of offending.

I digress. When you place a condition such as dyslexia in the Graham Allen context of early intervention, it is possible to see, from the evidence, that unintentional parental neglect can lead to atypical brain development and learning difficulties. Therefore, proposed interventions are to target 0-3 and 0-18, the former being a critically sensitive period of brain development, and the latter, a period that should be exploited to support teen parents and families - extended schools could provide an effective measure for a multitude of difficulties.

Extended schooling isn’t always practicable in rural areas due to teachers and pupils having to travel large distances to schools. A consortium of SENCOs, of voluntary and private organisations could help bridge the gap in deprived areas by sharing responsibility for extended practice between schools and organisations, but it would require a commitment to set aside educational differences.

I’m in the process of drawing up a business plan to achieve this aim for our area (see ‘Narrowing the Gap in Deprived areas of Lincolnshire’ for an overview of our difficulties – Mablethorpe east ward).

Howard's picture
Fri, 08/07/2011 - 19:33

I agree with you on the need for proper regulation. But I think the Secretary of State is too distant to exercise effective regulation over such a large number of schools. You'd need a body closer to the schools, something more local. And, as it's exercising this regulation on behalf of the local community, it would have to be accountable somehow to that community. Now, what to call it? How about "a local authority"?
But then again both you and Helen have just supported your schools' rejection of such regulation by backing their switch to academy status!!

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 08/07/2011 - 23:45

I take your point Howard. I still think that properly enforced national regulation is best placed to ensure fair admissions overall; the ditching of admissions forum and the curtailing the powers of the school adjudicator are very problematic in this regard. The fact is that many local authorities preside over deeply unfair admissions' systems: Kent and Buckinghamshire supervises a grammar school system which condemns thousands of children to failure, my own LA allows chronic racial and gender segregation to go on -- as do many. The whole system needs reform.

Kate Johnston's picture
Tue, 12/07/2011 - 15:32

"I’m supporting the headteacher because the school is determined to remain a genuine local school in its admissions, in its educational approach and in the way it deals with the local community."

The criticism which is often made about schools converting to academies is what happens when the original people move on (i.e. the headteacher) and new people come in who don't have the same vision. How can you be sure that BGTC will stay as a genuine local school? What if a new set of people decide to change the admissions?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 12/07/2011 - 18:38

You've got a point Kate. It could change with a change in leadership, but this would be true if it stayed within local authority control, it could opt for a specialism and select that way. The whole arena of admissions needs to be reviewed in my view and the system turned into a fair one across the country.

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