Saturday 14 November 2015

Staff and parents press for secret ballot on Furness academisation

The audience at the academies meeting  
Statement from ATL, GMB, NASUWT, NUT, UNISON

Parents and staff from Furness Primary School, Harlesden, London gathered[1] to voice their deep concerns as to why their school was proposed to be turned into an academy. The Governors of Furness and Oakington Manor, federated schools, have made an application to turn the two schools into a sponsored academy trust without having first consulted parents and staff.

The question asked by everyone at the meeting was why? Furness school received a good rating by Ofsted in June this year. Oakington is currently rated as outstanding. The two schools federated three years ago to prevent Furness (which was then in special measures) closing or being taken over by an academy chain such as ARK.

The audience listened to Bridget Chapman, Chair of the Anti Academies Alliance, explain what academisation was all about – privatisation of state education and ultimately schools to be run for profit. She spoke about the evidence from research that showed that 13% of sponsored academies were classed as failing yet on 3% of state schools were in this Ofsted category. Further, the data shows a higher rate of exclusion among black and minority ethnic children in academies and there are fewer children with special educational needs. 99 academies had received warnings from the DfE about their financial dealing and 11 academy chains had received multiple warnings. The percentage of primary schools that have become academies is still very small and many of those have been forced to by the DfE despite there being no evidence that academies improve education for children, in fact the opposite.  Analysis of primary school results indicates that academy conversion actually slows progress” (Local Schools Network research).

Jean Roberts spoke on behalf of the education unions and told the audience how the unions had been stopped from making any presentation to staff at the so called consultation meetings held at both schools the previous week, as to why the education unions are united against the proposal. Staff who wanted to hear them, were shushed and told to be quiet by Mr Jhally, Chair of Governors of the Federation, when they protested. A motion of support for a campaign against the academy which had been passed by the Kensal Green Labour Party group was read out to much applause.

Mrs Libson who is the Executive headteacher of the federated schools had told the staff consultation meetings it was because Brent had done “nothing for the schools”. Brent LA dispute this most strongly. Jean Roberts had been sent a copy of the Brent Audit Report for Oakington Manor in June 2015. Auditors were unable to say that its accounts and accounting procedures were fully in order[2]. The report stated, “The key areas of weaknesses related to high value expenditure, income administration, stock management and pension administration”. One of the criteria Ofsted inspects in schools is the Governors oversight of school finances.

Janice Long a local councillor, who sent a message of support for the campaign against an academy, asked if the imminent Ofsted may be a reason for this rushed application.

Euton Stewart from GMB explained that in his experience the support staff were the first to be made redundant in academies. Academies can employ unqualified teachers, another concern of the teaching staff there. Parents spoke about the good teachers and the education they provided for their children at Furness and how all this change was unnecessary now the school had been given a good by Ofsted.

There was a clear commitment to continue to seek a secret ballot for parents and staff so that the Governors would fully know their views. Parents will continue to collect signatures on the petition. Staff are looking to hold meetings to discuss what they will do in response.

[1] Meeting held on 12th November at St Mark’s Church hall, Kensal Rise, London.
[2] Reporting Definition of Limited assurance: Weaknesses in the system of internal controls are such as to put the client’s objectives at risk.
The level of non-compliance puts the client’s objectives at risk.

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