Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Kingsbury High academy battle intensifies

Parents from Kingbury High School decided last night to seek an independent ballot of parents on the school's bid to convert to academy status with the ballot to be accompanied by information giving the case for and against conversion. They also voted to support the strike by teachers if their demands were not met.
This meeting supports the teachers of Kingsbury High School. We request an independently overseen secret ballot of parents’ views on academy status for KHS where parents vote YES/NO after hearing unbiased arguments for and against. We also request a consultation of the wider community, including feeder and other local schools, councillors, local residents and students. We request that there is a pause in the academy application process to allow this full and thorough consultation to take place. We declare that if our request for a parental ballot is not met, then we will be supporting the teachers who decide to take strike action.
In turn the teachers' professional associations said that they would withdraw their strike threat if the school organised an independent ballot of parents. They promised to accept the outcome of a fairly conducted ballot.

Shortly after the meeting concluded the headteacher, Jeremy Waxman, sent this letter to parents via e-mail:

Thank you to all of you who attended our Academy consultation meetings last week. I very much enjoyed discussing this important issue with you.

I was asked at one of the meetings if there would be an opportunity for follow up questions, especially for those who may have attended this week's separately organised event on Tuesday evening.
I am pleased to say that there will be two opportunities this Thursday evening (15th September): one at 6.30pm and another at 7.30pm in the Upper School Hall.

You will know from my previous letter that, after careful thought, I have formed the view that Academy status is in the best interests of Kingsbury High and the communities we are proud to serve. I would therefore be very keen to answer any queries you have. Please do come along if you would like to discuss things further.
This offer is unlikely to satisfy parents as it does not answer the demand for an independent ballot and reiterates Waxman's determination to go ahead with the academy. He will answer questions about becoming an academy but consider parents' arguments against conversion.

His approach has been to insist on his right to put the case for conversion and refuse to give equal weight to the case against and ignore the views of staff who voted 84.5% against conversion. Parents at the meeting were scornful of the school's parent survey which was openly biased towards the conversion case with the first question asking "What do you feel are the advantages of becoming an academy?" and the last asking parents what they would like the extra money gained by becoming an academy to be spent on. The survey would fail an A level Sociology examination!

In a strengthening of Labour's position, Cllr Sandra Kabir (Queensbury ward) pledged the support of the three Queensbury councillors; Mary Arnold (lead member for children and families) and Ann John (leader of Brent Council) for the campaign against academy conversion. Cllr Kabir said that the meeting was only the first step and that capaigners needed to gear up for what needs to be done. She said, "We will be with you all the way."

Later in the meeting I pointed out that staff, parents and students were only part of the process. I said that the school belongs in the long term to the whole community and that conversion would impact on future students and other schools. Councillors as representatives of the community must provide leadership on the issue and campaign strongly against the breakup of the local community of schools.

Mr Waxmana nd his senior leadership team and Kingsbury governors had all been invited to the meeting so as to have a balanced debate  but only one parent governor attended. She pledged to vote against conversion.

During the debate there were disturbing reports of Kingsbury staff feeling wary of opposing the management for fear of a future impact on their careers. One parent expressed shock that what was once a happy and united school had become one where teachers were frightened of stepping out of line. It was pointed out that Mr Waxman was a champion of pupil voice and that the School Council had been thoroughly involved in discussion about school uniform and the timing of the school day but had been virtually ignored on the academy issue. A student commented that when they had eventually met with Mr Waxman they felt that they had been given one-sided information.

Equally disturbing were reports from academy schools that spoke of special needs children being taught by unqualified staff, of teachers having less time to plan lessons and assess pupils because they were being deployed to cover absences and invigilate examinations, of high staff number (Crest Girls Academy lost 33 teachers at the end of the summer and only one third have been replaced) and a developing culture of bullying of staff by their seniors as well as a breakdown in pupil discipline.

Representatives of the professional associations emphasised that rather than just defending their conditions of service that teachers were convinced that academy status would worsen the quality of teaching and learning in the school through changes in those conditions.

The financial arguments used by Mr Waxman were challenged from the floor. The extra money that he claimed would accrue to the school would be used for buying in services currently provided by the local authority, including those for special needs and the money would evaporate as more school became academies and free schools were set up. Meanwhile other secondary and primary schools in Brent would suffer as the local authority budget was 'top-sliced'. One speaker said that Brent lost £950,000 last year because of this and that 8% of Brent's cuts were attributable to this loss.

No comments:

Post a Comment