Thursday, 17 May 2012

Mary Arnold: Consider the wider impact of academy conversion

Cllr Mary ArnoldLead Member for Children and Families, London Borough of Brent has made the following contribution to Queens Park Community School's debate about academy conversion:

Brent Council is committed to continue to work collaboratively and inclusively with its Family of Schools which is a ‘mixed economy’ of maintained community and foundation schools, including a range of faith schools together with four sponsor academies and more recently three ‘converter’ academies.

The government’s school reform legislation, the huge reduction in capital spending just at a time when population increases demand school expansion in Brent (and London-wide) and the diversion of funding away from local authorities towards academies is changing the education landscape and putting significant pressure on local authorities. Brent will continue to lobby the government on the following issues

 The central importance of local authorities in the strategic planning of school places and Special Educational Needs arrangements ,the regulation of fair admissions and the development of an authority wide school improvement strategy

 The vital role that elected members and local authority governors play in a locally accountable, democratic system

 The need for fair funding allocation for all schools which does not disadvantage maintained
schools in favour of academies and free schools

 The need for a realistic level of capital funding which will address the London-wide shortage
of school places

The government has created financial incentives for schools converting to Academy status.However conversion means the Local Authority’s budget is reduced through a topslice by the Department for Education and this inhibits its ability to deliver statutory requirements particularly impacting on vulnerable children.

In Brent we have much to be proud of and a strong record to maintain:

 education outcomes are continuing to improve at all key stages
 attainment at Key Stage 4 is in the top 25% of authorities nationally within the context of high levels of deprivation
 the gap in outcomes for under-achieving groups in Brent is closing
 permanent exclusions are reducing year on year

This represents fantastic work undertaken by individual schools. However, it isn’t the whole picture. What is special about Brent and has been a key feature of success is the co-operation across Brent’s education community – schools and the local authority – and the sense of collective responsibility.

It is vitally important to maintain high levels of collaboration across Brent’s education community and avoid the risks of fragmentation from academy conversions. The Local Authority continues to have key statutory duties and responsibilities across the whole system and needs to have the capacity to discharge its duties effectively, particularly in relation to the most vulnerable. This is brought into even sharper focus with increasing levels of poverty in Brent, higher unemployment and changes to the housing benefit system.

Brent Local Authority is not standing still but is developing new ways of working in the changing landscape. We know that many services provided by the Local Authority, particularly School Improvement Services, are highly valued. We also know that many schools recognise the importance of a shared moral purpose that transcends individual schools.

Therefore Brent has developed a comprehensive Traded Services offer for 2012/13 and is also developing with schools a partnership model for future delivery of School Improvement Services from 2013/14 onwards, with schools as leading partners. Over 100 governors attended the recent meetings and there was a very positive response to partnership working between schools and the Local Authority to secure the best outcomes for Brent’s children and young people.

In summary, in making decisions about your school, we would ask you to consider the wider impact on Brent’s education community and the importance of working together in the Brent Family of Schools for the benefit of all Brent students.

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