Sunday 21 April 2013

Green perspective on fragmentation of education through academies and free schools

For the record and for the wider audience beyond Brent interested in academies and free schools here is the letter I had published in the Brent and Kilburn Times two weeks ago:

Mary Arnold (Labour, lead member for children and families) claims  that Brent schools are 'far from fragmentation' and accuses me of 'distorted views'. In June 2011 the then Brent Chief Executive, Gareth Daniel warned against fragmentation of the education service when he spoke at the Brent Governors' Conference. In a reference to academies and free schools he said that it was crucial to keep Brent's 'family of schools' together.  He stressed the vital  role of the local authority when things go wrong in individual schools

At the same conference Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families,  urged governors to keep their eyes on the long-term and reflect on the permanent damage that would be caused by a fragmented school system.

In May 2012 Mary Arnold herself wrote to Queens Park Secondary Community School which was considering academy conversion and said:

'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 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.'
Now In April 2013 we only have one non-academy non-faith secondary school left in Brent: Copland High School, which may well come under pressure after its recent Ofsted report.  In the primary sector Sudbury has converted to academy status, Salusbury converted to academy status with the Park Federation after Ofsted put it into Special Measures and Kensal Rise last week announced it was being taken over by Ark Schools. Academies are answerable to Michael Gove and not the local authority.

Gladstone Park Primary is under enormous pressure from Department for Education brokers to convert to academy status after just one poor Ofsted Report and despite its above average results.

Despite this escalation of the situation since the earlier warnings Mary Arnold now seeks to downplay the danger, She
prefers to see this as a 'mixed economy' of schools rather than fragmentation and appears ready for this continue with the added ingredient of free schools over which the local authority has no control. Brent Labour Party appears to have given up the fight against Michael Gove's policies and instead seeks to work with them. An early promise to write to the DfE stating that the local authority thought that Gladstone Park had the capacity to improve with local authority support has not been fulfilled. Parents have been left on their own to challenge DfE bullying.

I understand that the argument within the council is that if they were to make a stand against the DfE and challenge forced academies it would bring the wrath of the DfE and Ofsted down on the council and local schools and make matters worse. An alternative view is that if the local authority acquiesces so easily the DfE will see easy pickings in Brent  and move to force more primary schools to become academies. The council's policy gives in to bullying and leaves parents and residents who want to support their local school and the benefits of the local authority school system out on a limb.

I spoke at the recent Brent General Purposes Committee calling for strong leadership in education that would champion the role of the local authority  in school improvement, in ensuring equality of access to schools, and in making schools democratically accountable to the local community. I too am proud of what Brent schools have achieved and want to ensure that this is not undermined by Michael Gove's ill-thought out reforms. I think this is best down by challenging forced academies, free schools and the privatisation of education  while Mary Arnold thinks  a softly, softly approach of collaboration which retains an arms length role for the local authority will succeed.

Martin Francis
Brent Green Party spokesperson on children and families

1 comment:

Martin Francis said...

Jane writes: I have been trying to find out from the DfE how much money they have so far wasted on the Michaela Community School farce and drawing attention to the news that EAct has now been warned about financial problems - EAct was the renamed Edutrust - renamed as a result the financial mismanagement and leading to Lord Bhatia's resignation.