Copland staff and parents underwhelmed by ‘consultation’ process.
Guest blog by 'Participatory Democracy'
Copland staff have always been a little sceptical about ‘consultation’, possibly since ex-Head Davies once announced to a full staff meeting (on applying for Trust status) : ‘the consultation period is over’, having omitted to do anything to indicate that it had ever actually begun. So when various Ark representatives, including the Ark Academy Head, Dame Delia Smith OBE, and IEB members fronted a ‘consultation’ meeting for Copland staff last Thursday, no one was expecting them to get a warm reception. And that’s exactly what they didn’t get. Still, as almost all the staff had only ever seen one member of the IEB before, it was, if nothing else, a chance for them to get a glimpse of this year’s latest new bosses. Or, as one ‘deleted’ teacher put it: ‘it’s always nice to be able to put a face to your redundancy notice’.
To be fair to the ‘panel’, they had the good grace to look uneasy throughout the question-and-answer session as if aware that they were on a hiding to nothing trying to sell a dodgy product to a more than savvy audience who had no illusions about what they were ‘participating’ in. After all, being invited to take part in a ‘consultation’ whose outcome Ms Smith was so confident of that she had already, in her letter of 8th November, notified the parents of Ark One that she would, from next year, be helping out at Ark Two, would have struck even the most ‘inadequate’ teacher from the most ‘failing’ school as a tiny bit insulting.
Also, the fact that the ‘consultation’ process is a key component of a government policy called ‘forced academisation’ and that, at the end of the day, the government has access to rather more in the way of enforcement capability ( disciplinaries, fines and injunctions, tactical, operational and strategic weaponry) than Copland staff are able to get their hands on at short notice, might have tempted the more defeatist staffroom elements to conclude that resistance was futile. The scepticism and resentment were evident in the teaching staff’s general feeling that, though they were clearly opposed to academisation (and had voted twice for strike action to demonstrate this), London Borough of Brent’s handpicked IEB had already decided that academisation was what they were going to get.
Still, to be charitable, the panel didn’t attempt to persuade Copland staff of the benefits of increased hours and shorter holidays; job insecurity and high staff turnover; centralisation and erosion of local democratic accountability; managerialist bullying and the wiping out of modern European conditions of service; or the elimination of progressive staff/management relations, all likely consequences of this government’s (and their allies’, and their ‘useful idiots’) headlong rush back to the Fifties. No attempt at a case was made for any of this. After all, there are certain things you just can’t polish.
A couple of awkward but illuminating moments involved Ms Smith and didn’t bode well for her dealings with what remains of Copland staff next year (subject, of course, to the outcome of the current ‘consultation process’). One arose when an enquiry was made about the ethnic make-up of the teaching staff at Ark One. Copland has always prided itself on having a staff body which reflects the ethnic mix of the catchment area and the school’s intake. A look at the list of the secondary teachers at Ark Academy’s website had given reason for doubt that this was the case at that institution. Could Copland staff be reassured on this? Answer from Ms Smith came there none.
At another point it was mentioned that Copland staff were probably feeling stressed having just experienced another 2-day Ofsted inspection. Ms Smith deemed it appropriate at this point to assert that Ark Academy staff wouldn’t have found this stressful as they are so used to being regularly inspected. Whatever Ms Smith’s qualifications to speak for her staff on their stress levels, at a time when repeated observation seems increasingly to be used as a disciplinary tool by managements and when inspection gradings seem to suspiciously conform to a pre-written DfE narrative, this did not achieve an Outstanding for tact or timing.
Many staff were still wishing to contribute to the discussion when the meeting was shut down. In part this was because there was to be a similar meeting for parents later that evening. Teachers were not welcome at the parents’ meeting but union reps stayed behind with the intention of talking to parents and handing out leaflets. However, the parents must have been even less convinced than the staff that ‘consultation’ had any purpose as no one turned up for the meeting.
Given this fact, it could be argued that there has not, as yet, been any real consultation of Copland parents on the subject of the academisation of their school. On the other hand, given the pre-ordained nature of the process and despite their meeting being extremely well attended, most Copland staff are of the opinion that exactly the same thing could be said about them.