Sinfin Community School – Derby

Derbyshire Green Party supports the governing body and leadership team of Sinfin Community School in opposing the government’s requirement for the school to become a forced academy in the light of its OFSTED inspection reports from 2012. The most recent monitoring inspection visit from October 12th 2012 reports progress being made in a number of areas including the school’s highest ever attainment in the GCSE results in the Summer of 2012. While the report does note where further progress is required and focuses on the speed of that development, it nevertheless mentions a number of ongoing improvements, which suggest that the school’s staff is working hard to address the issues raised. Why then in November 2012 did the government replace the governing body and order the conversion into a forced academy?

Academies are exempt from the national curriculum, the regulations concerning the quality of food provided for students, the teachers pay scale and even the requirement to hire qualified teachers. All of these are the essential elements of an accountable and equitable education system serving both a defined national need and that of a local area. It would appear that community involvement in education is now unimportant in government policy, which is that every school in the country will be an academy by 2015. In other words there will not be a national education policy for the curriculum our children learn or the rates at which our teachers are paid or the fact that teachers need to have qualifications. It is unsurprising that the Department for Education is cutting hundreds of jobs at the moment, because it will be private companies in the form of academy chains who will be running our school system, not the democratically controlled Ministry of Education or Local Education Authority. We are a short step away from schools being completely privatised and eventually from schools being run for profit. This was never revealed in the Conservative election manifesto or in the published Coalition agreement. This policy has been forced through with out the proper engagement of the stakeholders in our education system.

A school like Sinfin Community School needs to support its students using deep knowledge of its local context. It does not need a formula solution using business people whose first priorities will be the for profit business model rather than teaching and learning. Ten miles away in Ilkeston a school which was previously designated as satisfactory is now inadequate in three of the four inspection categories including leadership and management. This has occurred after a year as an academy with the Ormiston Trust. As an extra affront to the local community the parents of children at the other Ormiston academy in Cotmanhay are facing a merger into this currently failing school. This proposal has come about because of falling rolls (a temporary issue) and despite an assurance when the chain took over both schools that they would remain separate.

There is no such thing as one size fits all in education and academies are certainly not that solution. The Green Party urge all with an interest in the education of our young people to vigorously oppose this stealth privatisation of our education system.

[Philip Hood, Ilkeston]

Greens Condemn Academies Policy

Derbyshire Green Party is encouraging parents to find out if their children’s school faces the switch to academy status. Peter Allen, the candidate for High Peak in the last election, said,

“We know that 13 schools in Derbyshire have so far expressed an interest, we fear that many more will be pushed to do so for fear of losing funding.”

Caroline Lucas, Party leader and Brighton MP, described the Bill as an attack on both local democracy and comprehensive education.

“Today, with this bill’s passage, is a bad day for democracy and for education. This was legislation that was rushed through Parliament, without proper consultation. We should be improving the quality of every local school for all children, rather than accelerating Labour’s programme of academies to deepen divisions between schools.”

She tried unsuccessfully to amend the Bill in Parliament to ensure that parents and the local community retained a strong voice on governing bodies.

The Act will come in to force next week, with both schools and Parliament in their summer recess. By the time they return, all schools will have the right to opt out of Local Authority control and accept funding from private sponsors. These sponsors, who need have no experience in education, will dominate the governing body of the school, establish staff and pupil recruitment policy, and be able to influence the school curriculum. Peter Allen said that this Act heralded the effective privatization of education.

“The ConDem Government is slavishly following an American model that does not deliver higher standards than the present UK system.  I urge parents to find out if their children’s schools are affected and to question the school Governors carefully about this policy. I fear that it is a smokescreen for deep cuts in educational funding.”

The following schools in Derbyshire have expressed an interest in
becoming Academies:

Arboretum Primary, Derby
Markeaton Primary School, Derby
West Park School, Derby
Woodlands School, Derby
Alfreton Park Community Special School
Chapel-en-le-Frith High School
Duffield Meadows Primary School
Harpur Hill Primary, Buxton
John Port School
Mill Hill School
Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School
St Mary’s Catholic High School
The Park Schools Federation Infant and Nursery School

The following schools in Derbyshire are classed by OFSTED as outstanding and are entitled to become Academies, though we don’t know if they have
expressed an interest:

Chellaston Foundation School, Derby
Wren Park Primary School, Derby
Bradley C of E Primary School
The Long Eaton School
Kirk Hallam Community Technology & Sports College
The Ecclesbourne School
Croft Infant School

Opposing Academies

The ConDem Government is inviting all schools in England to apply for Academy status. At the same time it has announced a 25% cut in the education budget. This places Head Teachers and their Governing bodies in an invidious position: either to accept swinging cuts in the annual budget, which will inevitably lead to loss of staff and threaten overall performance, or accept private sponsorship with a subsequent reduction in control over their schools.

Building upon the last Conservative government’s Grant Maintained schools, Academies are an ideologically-driven policy initiated by New Labour, once again slavishly copying what happens in America.  Academies are designed to take education provision out of the hands of democratically-elected local councils and hand it to private corporate bodies that need have no experience of running schools. Local Education Authority (LEA) budgets will be cut, to the detriment of those schools which remain within the LEA.

The smokescreen for this privatisation exercise is that Academies will raise standards. That is simply not true. If it were, standards of attainment in the USA would be above those of the UK and other European countries. They are not. Data collected by the Programme for International Student Assessment show consistently that standards of English and Maths are higher in the UK than in the US. Studies by the University of York And by the LSE have shown that, when Academies are compared with state schools, there is no difference in attainment. Where Academies do improve locally it is because of creaming-off the more able students; in other words, where they act like Grammar schools. Using Labour’s ill-considered academy policy, the ConDems are going to turn back the clock forty years and recreate a divisive two-tier educational system: Academies, [Grammar/Independent] schools for the top 10% and children of the affluent and a rump of poorly funded state schools for the rest.

The outcome? A more divided, less equal society.

The Green Party opposes the establishment of Academies. We want schools to have more independence over their budgets and curriculum and to be free of the political meddling of central government. We want teachers to have more power to evaluate the needs of their students, to be able to concentrate on delivering their curriculum rather than chasing paper and hitting externally set targets. We want schools to be able to work within their local community in cooperation with parents and representatives of that community so that they can provide for the educational needs of all within the community, including adults. We do not want to see external sponsors peddling their own commercial or faith-driven agenda, using their economic power to ride over the educational interests of the school and wider community.

To date, thirteen schools in Derbyshire have expressed an interest in applying for Academy status. They are already successful schools. They will gain little by way of educational attainment. Their motivation is fear of budget cuts. This regressive policy must be opposed.

Summary of the Bill

The Bill would enable more schools in England to become Academies. The Government expects a significant number of academies to open in September 2010, and for the number to grow each year. Academies would be funded at a comparable level to maintained schools but would also get their share of central funding that local authorities used to spend on their behalf. Schools that apply to become academies would be allowed to keep any surplus balances that they hold. There would be no expansion of selection but grammar schools and other schools which select or partially select pupils would be able to continue to do so.

Key areas

  • enables all maintained schools to apply to become academies, with schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted being pre-approved
  • allows maintained primary and special schools to apply to become academies in their own right
  • gives the Secretary of State the power to issue an academy order requiring the local authority to cease to maintain the school
  • removes the requirement to consult the local authority before opening an academy
  • requires the consent of any existing foundation (mainly churches) before a school applies to become an academy (and prohibits the religious character changing during the conversion to academy)
  • deems academy trusts to be exempt charities.