Thursday 22 November 2012

Break up of Brent's local authority school system continues

The headteacher of Preston Manor was annoyed at me when during September's Education Debate at Copland High School I included Preston Manor in a comment about academies. 'We are not an academy,' he said and then got more upset when I responded, 'Not yet!'. 

Anti-academy campaigners in Brent were always concerned that when schools became Cooperative Trusts there would be an almost automatic progression to becoming Cooperative Academies. This was denied by the Cooperative College when they spoke to local schools and trade unions.The Cooperative Trust model was sold as a way of staying within the locally funded network of schools but in a more cooperative way and alternative to private sponsorship.

Preston Manor is currently a Cooperative Trust foundation school but is consulting on becoming a Cooperative academy. The consultation started in November and will finish in on December 7th.  A meeting for parents took place yesterday evening.

In a letter to parents the headteacher said:

Earlier this term I wrote to explain that the Governors had agreed to my recommendation to apply to the Secretary of State to be considered for conversion to Co-operative Academy status. I stressed that over the last eighteen months Governors have discussed the potential benefits and any drawbacks or risks of conversion to Co-operative Academy status as well as listening to the views of staff, students and parents.

The Governors thinking has always focused on the best interests of the students and children at the school;  they are adamant that if Preston Manor does convert to Co-operative Academy status it woulcontinue to offer inclusive and comprehensive education to our students and children but would have the benefits of greater curriculum freedoms;   continue to embrace the Co-operative values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity; continue with the same admissions policy; retain national and local terms and conditions for all existing and future staff;  utilise the additional finances to improve the school even further, with a particular focus on teaching and learning, standards and progress;  continue to work collaboratively with other local schools to benefit students, children and staff;  continue to have a majority of Governors who are parents or staff; and  keep our school day and school year within the local context.
The joint education unions in a letter to staff and parents said:

The joint education unions welcome Preston Manor Governors commitment to having a full consultation over the possible move to academy status.

As supporters of locally accountable comprehensive state education, we view with grave concern this Government's plans to privatise the whole of the education system through academies and free schools. We expressed these concerns when the school was consulting over the move to Co-operative Trust status .

We hope that where our members oppose conversion the Co-op would respect this. The NASUWT has a good relationship with the Co-operative movement but remains opposed to Academies . As the Unions representing the overwhelming majority of staff we are concerned the impact that such a change of status could have on the children's education and the conditions of service for the employees.

Preston Manor is a good and improving school. Why does it need to change?

This proposal has nothing to do with improving education for pupils. If it was, your child's teachers would all have been calling for these changes . They have not, and are not.

Academies , though state funded, are in the independent sector- the tax payer pays but academies are democratically unaccountable locally. Academies are accountable directly to Michael Gove, Secretary of State. The whole of the TUC and its affiliated trade unions are opposed to academies .

As you know the teaching and support staff at the school are dedicated and committed to providing the best education for the pupils at the school. They believe that any change to the school  should  be one which makes a positive difference to children's educational attainment. There  is  no  evidence  to  show  that becoming an academy would raise educational standards . Rather, in the long term, we are convinced it will be the reverse and lower them.

Private companies are lining up to take over the provision of school services - and in future to provide and run all schools to make  a profit. They may price cut at the start but increase costs later. We see the Government's true privatising colours in raising tuition fees to £9000 and are now supporting private universities. Gove's long term intention is to privatise the running of schools and education
Though the current Head and Governors may promise things will not change, when  they  move  on  as happens over time , any new leadership can change things very quickly if the school is an academy . These would include for example determining the curriculum, pay, conditions and varying duties.
The only guarantee that national pay and conditions will continue to be applied to staff would be if Preston Manor did not become an academy .

Is there a financial advantage to becoming an academy?

If Preston Manor becomes an academy it initially receives some extra funding but only for only a short period of time . The Department for Education has stated that; 'the government is clear that a school converting to an academy will not have a financial advantage or disadvantage '.

We have requested a copy of the Preston Manor business plan but as yet it has not been forthcoming . We would urge the Governors to ensure that the financial implications are fully explored . Some heads present academy status as a short term funding expedient, but the consequences for the school are long term and serious. In the funding context , academies undermine the  key principle of accountability in public funding - they  are publicly funded , but not subject to the same reporting requirements as maintained schools.
 If Preston Manor becomes an academy it will leave Copland High School as the only community secondary school in Brent.

The shape of Brent secondary education will be:

South of the North Circular Road:
Newman College (Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided), Capital Academy (private sponsor), Crest Boys and Crest Girls (private sponsor), Queens Park (Cooperative Academy), Convent of Jesus and Mary (Converter Roman Catholic)

North of the North Circular Road:
St Gregory's  (Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided), JFS (Jewish Voluntary Aided applying for converter status),  Ark Academy (private sponsor all-through) Kingsbury High (Converter), Wembley High (Converter), Alperton High  (Cooperative Academy), Preston Manor (Cooperative Academy - all-through), Copland Hugh (foundation school)

Amongst primary schools Sudbury has become the first academy. A question mark may hang over Preston Manor's partner schools once it becomes an academy.  They are Oakington Manor Primary,  Preston Park Primary and  Woodfield Special school.

The break-up of the network of local authority, democratically elected secondary schools is almost complete. I expressed fear that Preston Manor's expansion into primary provision as a result of the Ark Academy would  inevitably lead to Preston Manor seeking academy status. To its credit it hasn't taken the private sponsor route and appears to be holding a fair consultation process but the decision, if it goes ahead, will still undermine the local schools system and open the way to further disintegration.

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