Monday 13 June 2011

Student letter to Holland Park and Council Bosses on Academy


Dear all,

We have recently become aware that plans are afoot to transform Holland Park School into an ‘academy’, in conjunction with widespread changes occur across the education sector. We are aware a consultation process is required for such a sweeping change to the way the institution is run, and assert that as students, we are the primary stakeholders in the education service and therefore deserve not only a voice but an influence over anything likely to affect the delivery of our service.

We maintain confidence that your central objective is to provide a healthy, happy, and focused academic environment for students and staff to thrive in both inside and outside the classroom. This taken into account, we urge you to therefore reconsider this proposal sharply. It is not hyperbole or exaggeration to suggest that academy status could drive a wrecking ball through the positive place that is Holland Park, as it has done in so many other schools across the United Kingdom.

Bear in mind that academies are taking place against a backdrop of a fundamental reorganization of the education sector. On 30th June, four teaching unions are set to strike against an unfair and regressive assault on their pension schemes. Last winter, Parliament voted to raise tuition fees to £9,000. Since then, it has become clear that this will decrease student participation in higher education, will cost the state far more than it saves, and will ‘price out’ many smaller and less prestigious universities. Some universities are announcing course cuts of up to 70%. The scrapping of Education Maintenance Allowance, meanwhile, has been slammed by the very thinktank who wrote the report that the government used to justify their decision to remove it! We have seen schools left in temporary accommodation indefinitely since the Building Schools for the Future scheme was summarily axed. We move, therefore, to say that the Coalition Government based on their current record cannot be trusted with school reform, and are committing untold damage to an education sector built up on talent, academia, and public money over generations.

Yet there are far more specific reasons to oppose the introduction of academies. Listed below are a small number of issues, by no means complete or comprehensive, of the drawbacks of academies.
-       Much of the government’s marketisation of schools strategy originates from a similar system in Sweden. Per Thulberg, director general of the Swedish National Agency for Education, says “This competition between schools that was one of the reasons for introducing the new schools has not led to better results.”
-       Academy providers cannot be trusted with schools. The biggest Academy chain in England is ULT. The government told them they could have no more Academies after Ofsted failed their 2 Academies in Sheffield. In 2002 Edison USA was caught in the stock market meltdown, with its shares plummeting from over $21 to under $1. The company solved this by selling off its books, computers, lab equipment and musical instruments! Edison are already running schools in England.
-       Of the 74 Academies which have entered pupils for GCSE’s for 2 or more years, a third have seenThe National Governors Association, National Association of Head Teachers, National Grammar Schools Association, the Catholic Church, the Church of England have all raised major concerns with the Academies proposals. their results fall.
-       The Academies Bill proposes that schools can become Academies simply by a vote of the governors – no consultation with parents, teachers, support staff or the local community. They are not accountable to the Local Authority, so they are not accountable to the public. Their governors are appointed, not elected. Academies are not covered by Freedom of Information legislation. In short, they are unaccountable and undemocratic.
-       Every Academy can set their own terms and conditions. This proposal will see the end of national negotiations, with headteachers and governors setting pay and conditions school by school.
-       The only extra money available for schools that opt to become academies will be taken from money the local authority holds centrally for support services.

This information is taken from the Anti Academies Alliance, an admittedly non-neutral source, but one corroborated by a range of external and neutral sources.

Holland Park School has a uniquely cosmopolitan tradition. It was the first state comprehensive in London, and remains the only state comprehensive in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; meaning it accepts students from all social and economic backgrounds. It has educated great minds and public personalities from historians and princes to writers and actors. It has improved its examination results year on year consecutively, to well above the national average, and was listed last year in the Good Schools Guide. It has sent a significant number of students to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as other prestigious higher education institutions. To be clear, we are performing very well as an institution, thanks to committed staff and students. We see no reason to jeopardise this success with a structural change that the best evidence suggests will do way more harm than good.

In addition, we resent that this decision-making process is in progress during the pivotal examination period. Speculation it may be, but many feel that this move is intentional, to marginalise participation in the debate around school reform as staff, parents and students are busy preparing for national qualifications. We move to delay the decision process until September, when a more far-reaching and inclusive debate can be had around the subject.

To summarise, we are afraid of the impact academy status will have upon our cosmopolitan tradition, our learning environment, and our staff and students. We see the change as part of a wider ideological assault against public, collectively-accountable education at school, FE, and HE level. If one of the state comprehensive model’s greatest beacons in the country is suborned before the Academy juggernaut, there is little hope left for any other school or institution to resist Gove’s reforms, which are currently popular with no-one but those who would profit from the breakdown of the education sector.

We, the undersigned, implore you to reconsider the decision, and add that it is of the highest urgency that any decision at all is postponed until the coming academic year.

Nathan Akehurst
VI Form Student

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