DfE uses intimidation to enforce academy conversion in primary schools, BBC discovered

Janet Downs's picture
The Radio 4 programme about enforced academy conversion for primary schools (16 February 2012) uncovered the following:

1 One head teacher interviewed said she didn’t know why her school was targeted because other schools had worse results and they were not singled out. Her school had exceeded the benchmark.

2 The head teacher said she had been contacted by a “Man from the Ministry” who gave her no reasons. Neither she nor the Governing Body had received anything in writing – it was all done by e-mail or phone.  There was no "paper trail".

3 The targeted schools tended to be those in urban areas of deprivation.

4 An interviewee who had met potential academy sponsors in Birmingham felt the visiting chains, which had no experience of primary education, were arrogant and over-confident.

5 Academy chains imposed conditions which went against the much-hyped autonomy supposedly enjoyed by academies.

6 Stephen Machin, one of the researchers behind the academy report which the Government uses to underpin its conversion programme, said it was not possible to compare sponsored academies established from under-performing schools under Labour with either converter academies, established from mainly outstanding schools, or primary schools.

The message from heads and Governing Bodies was that they felt bullied and intimidated. They were given no choice – it was a case of choose a sponsor or have one imposed.

“They create a prison and call it freedom.”

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Rob Shorrock's picture
Fri, 17/02/2012 - 09:02

The criteria seems to have been designed to create featherbedded opportunities for existing sponsors. Schools which have shown a degree of improvement over the last year seem to be on the list. Better to sponsor a school on the up than take the risk with schools that are getting worse. The objective of this exercise to ensure that Gove can say before the next election that Academies are better than maintained schools within all sectors.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 17/02/2012 - 09:16

Richard Hatcher (link below) wrote this about the sponsors which appeared to be the ones recommended by the DfE to schools in Birmingham: “ARK, E-ACT, AET (Academies Enterprise Trust), Ormiston, ATT, CET (Creative Education Trust), Elliott Foundation, ULT, RSA, K12, Edison Learning, Mosaica. These 12 seem to be the ‘approved’ sponsors of forced primary school academies being touted by the DfE in Birmingham.”

Some of these are for-profit providers.

I suspect – and I have no proof or I would provide it – is that the Government, having contacted education providers and academy chains before the last election is now trying to find work for them to do. This explains the bullying tactics employed above.

It also explains why primary schools are being targeted – they are small and would not be able to become stand-alone academies in the same way as larger secondary schools can.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 20/02/2012 - 10:27

I've now started a conversation on 'Poorly Peforming Primaries' and this program in particular on the linkedin.com group 'UK Education'. It's generated some interesting comments to people who are interested in this topic may also like to read and take part in that discussion.

You may be able to find it through this link but I'm not sure if it will work for all - especially if you're not a member of linkedin. Could readers let me know if it works or not as I'd really like to know what others can access. Thanks.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 17/02/2012 - 19:31

Many thanks for making us aware of this program Janet.
I find it deeply worrying.

Sarah's picture
Sat, 18/02/2012 - 16:14

The DfE are also phoning up local authorities with low levels of Academy conversion to press them to embrace this policy more enthusiastically. The fact that fewer than 5% of primary schools have chosen to convert is clearly a threat to Gove's intentions that all schools will be academies and I believe that these forced academies based on ever moving goalposts is simply a further tactic to achieve a tipping point whereby the government can argue that they might as well forcibly convert the rest. And then it's job done - our education system completely fragmented and at the mercy of predatory edu-businesses biding their time until the wholesale privatisation of education is permitted. I find it very hard to understand why people, many of whom are vociferously against what's proposed for the NHS, have stood by and watched a very similar assault on our state education system.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 08:59

The new head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, plans to replace the "satisfactory" grade with "requires improvement". Sir Michael told the TES that it had never entered his head that changing the legal status of "satisfactory" would result in more schools facing enforced academy conversion. That was a political decision, he said.

Sir Michael is a very intelligent man. It is inconceivable that he did consider the consequences and how they would please Mr Gove.

A cynic might suggest that Sir Michael was made head of Ofsted to inflate the number of "failing" schools which would then be ripe for academy conversion.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 20/02/2012 - 10:25

The idea of labeling satisfactory as being 'requiring improvement' flies in the face of all good practice and the associated law in inspection and regulation. Sir Michael should take the time to go on some of the legal courses on inspection and regulation which HMIs at the HSE are required to attend.

Emma R's picture
Tue, 13/03/2012 - 12:23

My children's junior school is basically being threatened with enforced academisation at the moment. Having been without a permanent head teacher for some time, standards have fallen. Although improvements are taking place, someone from the DfE told the governors that if they did not start the process voluntarily, she could arrange for an early Ofsted inspection that the school may well fail. They would then be forced to become an academy anyway. This sounds a lot like blackmail to me!

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 13/03/2012 - 13:24

Emma - I don't suppose anything was put in writing. According the the BBC Radio 4 programme cited above communication from the DfE was by phone or email. The governing body of Nightingale Primary School, Wood Green, was sacked by email and an interim governing body has been imposed on the school.

The evidence in the BBC programme suggested that schools were given two options: choose a sponsor or have one imposed. The option to stay with the local authority was not given.

It's disturbing that the threat of Ofsted inspections seems to be being used as a cosh. However, the evidence is only anecdotal. Heads and governing bodies who receive such threats should contact their MPs.

I wrote to my MP following the BBC programme but he denied knowledge of any intimidation because no school had written to him and complained.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 14/03/2012 - 11:41

Do you have firm evidence of that statement from a DFE official?

Emma R's picture
Wed, 14/03/2012 - 17:16

Unfortunately not. The comment was made at a meeting with governors and the acting head and I heard about it from some of them afterwards. None of them are likely to challenge it or follow it up - they seem resigned to the academy route.

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