I am formulating a reply to a letter from Lord Nash on the £1bn overspend and forced academies. Here is the draft of the letter I want to send. Does anyone have any points to add or correct?
Thanks you for your letter of 8th February 2013, which I received from Jenny some weeks later in mid March.
I would like to contest a number of points that you raise. And to ask you first why you failed to answer my question on forced academies?
You state that the Academies programme aims at providing schools more freedoms. There is no fundamental reason why such freedoms require a transfer of ownership and title. But the implication that these freedoms
are all good is disingenuous :
* The ability to hire unqualified teachers may seem a decline in teaching standards
* Exemptions from food standards is dangerous to the health of the children, and a capitulation to the commercial needs of suppliers
* The ability to set pay, even in the current constraint of not-for-profit sponsorship, results in:
- a loss of teacher pay scales that have been a major attraction for new teachers
- a hike to very high levels of executive salaries
On this matter of freedoms, why is the National Curriculum exempt for Academies? What is the meaning of a the National Curriculum in light of this?
You state that the decision to become an Academy, is, quite rightly, entirely voluntary. So why is that not always the case? Why is the situation of a school deemed necessary to force into Academy status not explored to see if, indeed, an Academy is the best solution?
The large body of evidence is questionable. Stats are easily manipulated to suit an agenda, and the stats stated for schools is strongly challenged by the Local Schools Network
The case for primary Academies is very much unproven since they have simply not been in existence for long enough. Some primary schools converting to Academy status have fared badly.
So the generic statement that Academies are the 'best solution' is questionable for secondary schools and for primary schools, not possible to gauge this early.
But the criteria for 'targeting' primary schools you offer :
'continue to cause real concern'
'chronically underperforming schools'
clearly refer to those schools that have 'sustained' poor performance. So why are schools like Roke Primary in Croydon, with a single weak Ofsted inspection targeted? Why are there no alternative methods explored to resolve the issues? Each weak Ofsted report identifies a profile of strong and weak points - why not address the weak points and then see if a system change to Academy status is appropriate if those courses of action fail?
One reason I say this is because the conversion to Academy status is, I believe, legally binding and therefore irreversible. If this is indeed the case, why is this fact not made clear to schools? If it is not clear, why do failing Academies not get immediately converted back to their former state when the conversion process fails?
You state that accountability is more rigorous for Academies, yet there appear to be flaws in this statement
When is an 'additional cost' an overspend? A matter of semantics. The reality is that :
* Financing of that overspend required a raiding of other budgets
* The 250,000 primary school place shortfall is surely demonstration of that failed budgeting
* Most of the £1Bn went to high performing schools that were offered cash to convert
So what is happening there? If the Academies are the 'best solution', why is a carrot or stick required to coerce schools to convert?
Returning to my original, unanswered question :
* I would also like to ask why democracy is being discarded by the Department of Education in their use of excess force to act against the wishes of people who do not want their school to be converted to academy status.
Threats to sack the board of governors, sham consultations, a failure to engage a proper and fair 'Big Society' discussion with parents and teachers all smack of undemocratic bullying.
Here are the letters to date