Will rush to academy status force all schools to convert? Alternatives

Ariana Yakas's picture
Guardian Education ran a story today on the dilemmas that headteachers are facing regarding moving to Academy status.

This rang very true for the LA where I am a school governor. As the article stated: "If schools are looking to their local authorities to give them reasons to resist the pressure to convert, it seems they may not get them." In my area at no time has the local authority come telling heads and governors 'if you don't go, we'll do this, this and this to help you'. The LA resignation and ambivalence towards academy status is palpable and there is definitely the feeling amongst some governors and probably heads of 'where's the leadership from the local authority?'

In my LA we are being faced with a possible scenario where the local school economy is being destabilised and less and less schools are being left within the authority. In fact, prior to this government, the LA moved six of its secondary schools to academy status.

The question and perhaps advice being sought here is what does a school do that has resisted going to academy status if they find out that they are only a couple of 'maintained' schools left within the authority?

If a school stays as a maintained school, which they would dearly want, do they end up then having to take all the LA's hard to place children that the academies are not taking? If that is the case do they then cease to be a 'comprehensive' school? Or do they opt for academy status but use the academy framework to maintain their 'comprehensive' status embedding within their policies all the postive aspects of a comprehensive school and thus enshrining their comprehensive nature? And if so can this actually be done?

For me as a school governor and a parent (and also against the Academy ideology) it is a difficult dilemma. Do you risk doing Gove's dirty work for him by opting for academy status and going against what you believe in or do you risk being isolated?
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Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 06/12/2011 - 17:28

I feel great sympathy for you , Ariana.

I've been to three meetings in recent weeks at which this issue has been discussed.

What struck me was, with the exception of one speaker at one meeting, how little enthusiasm there was for the prospect of schools converting. Nobody - heads,governors or parents - seemed convinced by the promised freedoms, most of which have been in place for schools anyway for years (how many LAs in the last fifteen years have stopped a school varying the time of the school day?)

At the same time, as you point out, there is a lot of concern about being one of a handful of schools left with an LA when most of its neighbours have become academies. The arguments , which I have made several times, about losing the support of the LA for school improvement or in times of crisis loses its force as people increasingly doubt as to whether that support will exist in any meaningful sense very shortly. If I am honest if were the head of a school in an LA where there were really only a couple of schools left I would be seriously considering the academy route . But the this morning I read the Warwick Mansell piece and I think my final thought would to wait at least until next school year to see what further skeletons come tumbling out of the cupboard. Good luck

Sarah Dodds's picture
Tue, 06/12/2011 - 18:13

I agree with you Adrian. I view with great sadness the plight of governors and heads who have bags of integrity feeling forced into a position that puts their professional integrity at grave risk.
However, I am increasingly getting the sense that the policy has been so rushed and ill thought out that the waiting game seems to be the most appealing option.

Sarah's picture
Tue, 06/12/2011 - 20:42

Whilst there are a small number of local authorities that have encouraged schools to become Academies most have watched the current situation unfold with dismay.

What you have in some places is the unedifying spectacle of schools trying to use the threat of Academy status as a carrot to persuade local authorities to provide them with additional support or in some cases hard cash - at a time when authorities have had their budgets top sliced regardless of how many Academies they have and major budget cuts which makes supporting their schools ever more challenging.

It's not strictly true to say that any local authority has 'moved' its schools to Academy status since it's not actually in their gift to do so and indeed they don't even have to be consulted - and in many cases schools have positively avoided doing so.

Academy conversion seems in many cases to be either an act of desperation by those scared of being left behind, an opportunistic act to try to garner more cash at a time of shrinking budgets or an act of unattractive personal ambition on the part of some head teachers looking to make a name for themselves.

I believe many local authorities were simply taken aback by the speed with which it was possible for schools to convert - in many cases it was a matter of a few weeks. Most have now caught their breath and are actively marketing themselves to the schools that remain, pointing out the range of services they can provide. However in some places it's already to late and the majority of schools have gone leaving those that remain wondering what to do next. My advice to any school considering conversion is to look at the true costs and benefits involved - and the information from the DfE was not always honest in this respect, which is why I believe the pace of conversion has now slowed. In my own area some that have converted are now starting to repent at leisure for their hasty departure - and of course it's too late as the trap door only opens one way.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 07/12/2011 - 10:31

It must be a very depressing situation but it is by no means the case that all authorities are engaging in this sort of activity. You may have noticed from the Guardian piece , and the quotes from one of my local primary head teachers, that the London Borough of Camden is taking a very different approach and trying to retain its schools. None has yet converted, the authority's GCSE results are above the national average and better than in many more affluent areas and nearly all the primary schools are good or outstanding. In short the local authority model can work. That doesn't mean we can't improve further and we are looking together ( with the help of the Camden Commission into education set up by the council) into how we may need to change in the future. Hopefully that will involve greater partnership working between schools, allied to continuing autonomy for schools within the local authority framework but not necessarily independent status.

Ariana Yakas's picture
Wed, 07/12/2011 - 12:29

Thanks to all for the responses so far. I sincerely hope I did not send a message that ALL authorities were like the one I described. I was merely describing the situation as perceived by myself and a numbers feel about our LA. In fact, at times I would say I have been rather envious of heads and governors who work in authroities such as Camden and others nearer to me that have provided that support and all important dialogue as to how to develop for the future but within the local authoriity model. I suppose what I was looking for was for any ideas, initiatives, innovations etc that, those of us that are in LAs such as mine, can use to campaign/convince others in order to keep those remaining schools within the authority.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 07/12/2011 - 13:23

You might be interested in the final report of the Camden Commission which has just been published today.

Ariana Yakas's picture
Wed, 07/12/2011 - 15:32

Thanks for the link. The sort of stuff I was looking for.

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