Where we are …the Louth story so far….

Henry Stewart's picture
(Due to technical difficulties, I have posted this on behalf of Sarah Dodds)

I would like to play a guessing game. The quotes below I heard on one day, in one place, within the course of our SOS campaign. The aim is to guess where I heard them.

· “I would not touch an academy with a barge pole,”

· “most ….(people here) do not agree with academies”

· “There are major flaws in academies.”

The possible answers are;

· a) The NUT conference in April

· b) The Anti-Academies Alliance conference in June

· c) Or Lincolnshire County Council’s Scrutiny Committee in July.

The answer is “c.” And what is even more surprising, the councillors who stated these opinions were all Tory councillors. All but one of them voted AGAINST their principles, and went on to vote for a policy that states that all Lincolnshire schools should seek academy status with CfBT as the preferred sponsor.

Another quote that I found yesterday made me laugh out loud. A Department for Education spokesperson was quoted on the BBC News website as saying that “the department was "relaxed" if schools did not want to convert, as the (academies) policy "was permissive and not coercive."

Bring that spokesperson up to Lincolnshire! Because coercion seems to be the name of the academy game up here.

This week I have spoken to a teacher at an academy in Lincoln. Before the conversion, this school wanted to know what the LA would offer. They were told that the LA was not prepared / able to support them, and that academy status was the only option. The governors met with two potential sponsors and did not like either. So they went back to the LA and said “look, we want to stay with you, what help are you prepared to give?” The answer was still “none”, and the school converted to academy status.

Another chair of governors I know very well is dead set opposed to the academies, but is going down the road because he is concerned that he will be one of Gove’s 200 primaries who will be forced into conversion. Best to jump, and not be pushed.

So stories are emerging to suggest that I was right in my previous blog. People are searching for their own “least worst” options. No longer is the best good enough for our children. Why, thank you, Mr. Gove.

My kids, our kids, are worth the best that the integrity of professionals with years of experience has to offer. Gove has not been speaking to them. He is a journalist, not an educationalist. He has around him a narrow range of people to advise him on policy, and it is no surprise that they are advising him on policy that reflects their own vested interests.

And this is exactly what is happening in Lincolnshire. The politicians within the county council are not engaging in any way shape or form with the real educational community. Their advice is coming straight from the mouths of CfBT. Indeed, the head of CfBT in Lincolnshire is also an officer of Lincolnshire County Council. As an officer, he is there to offer impartial and balanced advice… Yeah, right.

There are stories about CfBT in Lincolnshire that make my hair curl. You can forget about them being a charity. They are playing a hard and loose business game within our schools, and have been for years. There are stories of lying, bullying, manipulation, and racism, and stories of complaints going to the county council and police. But we are told none of this.

Over the course of the campaign I have seen some fascinating documents. And none more so than one marked “confidential” and entitled “Future Developments for Louth Schools.” Dated “November / December 2010”, it says that “governors and head teachers have been instrumental in developing and contributing to this paper.” Odd one that. Because the governors were not told anything about the plans for the Louth schools until the end of January 2011. I have no doubt that the authors of the document are key individuals in CfBT, who run the Schools Improvement Service. On page 4 of the document it says the following:

“We should not rule out the possibility of primary aged children in an Academy – with some tiny primary schools in Lincolnshire and others with difficulties recruiting and retaining head teachers, it may be desirable to create and Academy with a 3-18 age range…At this stage this is only a possibility which will not be developed further.”

Who would this be desirable to? The parents, children, heads and staff of our already quite brilliant primary schools in the Louth area? The communities in the tiny villages who will see their schools closed, and primary aged children bussed in to be educated away from home? Or is this simply a statement of what is desirable to CfBT?

However, there are signs that the worm is turning. Last week, one of the governing bodies involved in the Louth merger talks voted for a local authority re-organisation of the schools. They were told explicitly that there was not a need to vote on academy status. The other governing body involved refused to vote, because the academy word was still being used. These governing bodies are empowered and strong – a true credit and tribute to the stakeholder model of governance that Gove seeks to destroy. This is a victory in Louth.

However, there is a real danger that this could be prove to be only a temporary stay of execution. The only thing that can turn things around is if we have a proper, informed and full debate that includes parents, teachers, students, head teachers, unions, and governors – in fact entire communities. If this is had, and the honest consensus is to continue down the school privatisation path, then I will lick my wounds and concede defeat. But my experience is telling me that the academies agenda is not want people want, and it is not what children need.

The shape of education in Lincolnshire for generations to come will be decided in the next six months. We should be deeply cynical of those who are trying to shape it into a form that matches their own desires, without even trying to seek our views as a community of the educating and educated. Just whose interests do they serve?
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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 19/09/2011 - 16:09

There are three reasons why this has happened in Lincolnshire. The first is bribery: schools thought they would benefit financially from conversion. The second is fear: schools were worried about what would happen to them if they were left in a minority of schools being maintained by Lincolnshire County Council. The third was bullying: earlier in the year the Council sent letters to primary school heads which suggested that they consider conversion. Heads were being leant on.

And then there's government policy. Lincolnshire has a large number of secondary modern schools because the county is selective. Many of these would struggle to reach Mr Gove's new benchmarks. This would result in enforced conversion. Many tiny village schools would also struggle to reach benchmarks - a slight variation in a school's intake can mean the difference between success and failure. Enforced conversion would be catastrophic for schools whose size means they would have insufficient extra funding to pay for services which the LA now provides. So government policy which judges schools solely on results without considering context is threatening the status, perhaps the survival, of these schools.

CfBT made it clear in their statement to the Council* that it would "seek to accept any school wishing to join the Trust and we will work together to maintain the small Primary schools if a balanced portfolio of schools can be established". Note the phrase "a balanced portfolio". In other words, CfBT will only take on the vulnerable rural schools if they can have some of the larger ones.

Unfortunately for many Lincolnshire schools, if they go with CfBT trust they will have to pay more for support unless they are good or outstanding. The "financial contribution" to CfBT will be "directly related to their performance" with 60% being judged on "pupils (sic) performance." This is unfair on Lincolnshire's secondary moderns and vulnerable rural schools. These schools will be doubly handicapped - first by their intake, and secondly by the extra contribution required by CfBT. At the same time, those schools which benefit from creaming off high-ability pupils will pay a smaller contribution. And only those academies which are outstanding or good overall will have "freedom to govern, lead and manage", so even satisfactory schools will lose their autonomy.

This has not been discussed in Lincolnshire where only the benefits of conversion are mentioned in the press, and the council is not inclined to discuss the matter with its electorate.

* All quotations from Appendix 2 Lincolnshire County Council Open Report on behalf of the Executive Director, Adults and Children's, to Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee 26 July 2011

Fiona Jones's picture
Thu, 22/09/2011 - 13:57

Then there is the issue of the Church who have stated that Church Schools in Lincolnshire will only be allowed to join the Church Umbrella Academy Trust. This arrangement seems to give even less support for schools in dealing with academy status than the arrangement proposed by CfBT, and takes away any decision making on what is best for a school from the governing body.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Fri, 23/09/2011 - 17:03

Quite Fiona.
The heads in Lincolnshire are left with no real choices...and this is about school autonomy?

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