DfE justifies proposal banning opposition to academy conversion by accusing protesters of being rabid mobs

Janet Downs's picture

‘HEADTEACHERS HIT BACK AT ENEMIES OF ACADEMIES’ screams the Department for Education (DfE) in an attempt to justify banning campaigners arguing against forced academy conversion.

Readers could expect to see a roll-call of academy heads acting as cheerleaders for academy status. But there are just three. One is not a head but ‘leader of the Harris Federation’. He cited Downhills as an example. It's true Harris Academy Philip Lane, as Downhills is now called, has been judged Good since becoming an academy in September 2012 but, as we’ve pointed out before, Downhills was already improving. Harris has capitalised on that improvement.

The second example was another Harris academy, Harris Academy Kenley. This, like Downhills, has improved since becoming an academy. It's gone from special measures to Outstanding. Inspectors praised Harris for its support and head Kate Magliocco for her leadership. On the face of it, then, this appears a resounding success for academy sponsorship. But, like Downhills, monitoring of the predecessor school, Roke Primary, in January 2013 found steps had been taken to raise the school from special measures with support from the local authority and Riddlesdown Collegiate.

A school ripe for academy conversion, it would seem, because the DfE announced Roke would become an academy in the same month: January 2013.

Parents fought enforced conversion but were unsuccessful. Ofsted returned in April 2013 and, mirroring the situation at Downhills, reversed its earlier opinion and declared Roke to be Inadequate. Such speedy about-turns bring Ofsted judgements into disrepute.

It could be argued Roke would have become a good or outstanding school if left alone. But we’ll never know because the school was rapidly converted. When Roke closed seven months later in July 2013 the local paper repeated claims that the DfE had ‘refused to allow the primary to partner nearby Riddlesdown Collegiate’. The picture of parents and pupils attending a farewell party with a special cake doesn’t quite match the image of bullying ‘enemies of academies’ painted by the DfE.

The third featured school is Hewett School. The proposed academization of Hewett was fiercely contested not least because Hewett had been judged Good in May 2103. An inspection in November 2014 overturned this positive judgement and judged it Inadequate. Two monitoring visits in February and May 2015 found progress was being made towards the removal of special measures. Nevertheless, the DfE had already told Hewett in March 2015 it would become an academy.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced in August that Hewett would join the Inspiration Trust. Its chair is Sir Theodore Agnew, a Tory donor who was until this year a non-executive board member at the DfE and chair of the DfE’s Academies Board. This had given rise to claims of conflicts of interest. In July 2015, shortly before Morgan’s announcement, the Guardian revealed that Inspiration’s CEO, Dame Rachel de Souza, had emailed Sir Theodore that Hewett’s Good rating in 2013 had made her feel ‘sick’ but the school’s GCSE results nevertheless made it ‘vulnerable’. Presumably this vulnerability exposed it to an Inspiration take-over.

These three academies, hailed by the DfE as examples of where menacing campaigners took devious action to halt academization, have one thing in common: they were found to be improving before the DfE announced forced academy conversion.

Faced with growing evidence that academy sponsorship is not guaranteed to succeed and may be worse than allowing schools to improve with local authority support, the DfE is portraying legitimate protestors as vicious, intimidating mobs. But it is the DfE, not campaigners, who is doing the bullying here. It is the DfE which is subverting democracy.

ADDENDUM: The response of Downhills parents to the latest attack on them by the DfE is here.

EXTRA 10.57am. The DfE has released a press release announcing a consultation about how best to 'speed up' the 'transformation' of schools deemed to be 'failing'. These proposals seek to sweep away the chance for groups opposing enforced academization to make their voices heard. The press release is not the same as the embargoed one on which my comments above were based. However, it does contain the three case studies above. It paints a selectively damning picture of Hewett - mentioning its having been in special measures twice in the last ten years. But Hewett was judged Satisfactory in 2006, 2008 and 2011. In 2013, as stated above, it was rated Good. This improvement, remember, was greeted by Dame Rachel de Souza not with pleasure but with disappointment. It was judged Inadequate in 2014 but found to be improving when the DfE decided it must become an academy. The last time Hewett was placed in special measures was in 2004. Ofsted monitoring in June 2005 said:

'The LEA's statement of action is good overall.'
'The school has made reasonable progress since being subject to special measures.'
'The LEA's target date of spring 2006 for the removal of special measures is ambitious.'

This ambition was realised - Hewett came out of special measures in February 2006 slightly earlier than the target date.

While the DfE is technically correct to say Hewett had been in special measures twice in ten years, it ignores the three Satisfactory and one Good judgements.

Dame Rachel is quoted as saying the proposal to turn Hewett over to Inspiration 'faced rumour, misinformation and politically-motivated opposition from a small but vocal campaign'. The opposition included the local MP and 80% of people responding to the consultation opposed either the enforced conversion or the imposition of Inspiration. Judging from the DfE's comments about Hewett's Ofsted inspections, it could be accused of spreading misinformation.

NOTES: A link to the original DfE press release will be provided when it appears on the DfE website.

UPDATE 23 October 2015: I contacted the DfE press office yesterday and asked them when the embargoed press release entitled 'Headteachers Hit Back at Enemies of Academies' would be published. I was told it would not be made public because it was intended just for journalists.

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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 23/10/2015 - 11:40

The original press release is available here.

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