Monday 28 January 2013

Gladstone Park gains window of opportunity on forced academy conversion

Gladstone Park Primary Reception Class  December 2012
The Department for Education has told the governing body of Gladstone Park Primary that they will delay making a decision on the proposed sponsor until February 11th. The DfE had been expected to name a sponsor last week.

The letter, which appears on the school's website LINK broadens the grounds for forced academisation:
Where schools are underperforming (my emphasis) or in an Ofsted category, Ministers have been very clear that the Department should lead on brokering sponsored Academy solutions. This is because the Department's sponsor assessment process and regular contact officials  have with sponsors means that the Department is best placed to provide a complete view on an individual sponsor's current capacity and capability to deliver.
The designation of 'underperforming' clearly widens the scope for forced academisation and confirms that this is a strategy designed to escalate the conversion of local authority primary schools to academy status.

 Offering  the governing body the opportunity to give its views and ideas 'before the proposed sponsor is decided' (Note - not whether academisation is the the best solution for the school and one favoured by the governing body, staff and parents) the DfE Brokerage and School Underperformance Division delay the decision until February 11th.

However, having offered that limited opportunity, the DfE makes it clear that 'formal consultation' only takes place AFTER the governing body has agreed that the school should have a particular sponsor:
...The Department believes it is most appropriate to meet with the governing body to discuss Academy status as it is the body responsible and accountable for the school's performance and strategic direction, and can make the decision to apply for an Academy Order. We recognise the importance of consulting locally and this is a requirement before any school can open as an Academy.The formal consultation is usually started when the proposed sponsor has been identified by the Department, the governing body has met with, and agreed to be sponsored by the sponsor, and the proposal has been given Ministerial approval to be taken forward. As the key stakeholder groups (parents, staff, the local authority and the wider community) are represented on the governing body in elected and non-elected roles, it is well-placed to take this decision.
There is a tacit recognition of the potentially conflicting claims of the DfE and ministers and the local democratic role and responsibilities of the governing body. 

Reading between the lines it appears that the Department wants to avoid appearing to ride rough-shod over current democratic arrangements (as it did at Downhills) by recognising the role of the governing body, but at the same time seeks to have the deal signed, sealed and delivered in advance of the consultation.

A key word is the 'usually' in the passage in bold. Perhaps there is space here for the governing body to insist that the consultation includes alternatives to academy conversion including the school managing its own improvement in collaboration with Brent's School Improvement Service or some other agency, or forming a soft or hard federation with another school.

It is important that Brent Council steps in to offer Gladstone Park support in such an approach.

No comments: