Forced academisation by proxy: when schools have little choice but to convert

Writing in the Conversation, Dr Nicola Ingram from Lancaster University draws on personal experience from her child’s school to question the process of forced academisation.

All schools in England that remain under local authority control are now living with the threat of being forced to become academies. As the mother of a child who attends a school that chose to become an academy, rather than have its hand forced, it is painfully ironic to watch this happen. Considering the government’s rhetoric on educational choice, freedom and autonomy that supposedly accompanies its academies agenda, parents will soon have little option but to send their child to an academy.

Whether the forced academisation of all England’s schools will actually happen or not remains to be seen. Over 130,000 people have so far signed a petition calling on the government to rethink the plans announced in the recent budget, with teachers set to march in protestagainst the issue.

Regardless of what legal powers are introduced to make the plans a reality, the existence of the threat of forced academisation legislation is likely to colour all future decision-making of schools’ governing bodies. Under the cloud of such a threat the logical question for schools is: do we academise now on our own terms or wait to be forced under unknown circumstances and conditions?

Act now, or be forced to

I recently experienced this exact form of constrained decision-making with regards to proposals to convert my child’s school – Parrs Wood High School, Manchester – to an academy. In our case, the strongest argument in favour of academy conversion was that of the fear of being forced to do so.

The consultation period took place during the progression period of the recent Education and Adoption bill, which introduced new measures for the government to forcibly academise any school that is deemed to be “coasting”. The lack of clarity about what this term means, coupled with the uncertainty about the direction of educational policy regarding schools’ governance, is likely to fuel rumours and instil fear. This was arguably the case in my child’s school.

The following excerpt from personal correspondence with the governing body at my child’s school in December 2015 exposes the underlying principle of fear driving the decision-making process, when all other arguments in favour of conversion were exposed as weak or lacking foundation. The governors stated:

This government has made it clear that they are going to take all schools out of LA control in the life of this parliament. The greatest danger to schools is that they are forced to academise with a DfE [Department for Education] approved chain. This is currently what happens after an Ofsted report which defines the school as requiring improvement or inadequate.

In the Education and Adoption bill due to be law in January a school can be forced to become part of an academy chain if it is seen as coasting. We don’t know what that is, but it is clear a dip in results or even a lack of improvement could fit this definition. So the choice for a governing body is to wait to be academised or to academise on its own terms.

What is the agenda?

There is still no conclusive evidence to support claims that academies raise standards and any success academies may have had might be explained by increased investment in schools. Add to this uncertainty highlighted by Labour about how much turning all schools into academies will cost, and it is difficult to produce an argument of substance in favour of such aggressive change.

Arguments in favour of academisation are questionable and are increasingly undermined by evidence-based research, yet the academies agenda retains a strong foothold in educational policy. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) recently aruged for the need to articulate a clear vision of the aims of academy policy and whether it benefits pupils.

Lacklustre opposition

The strongest opposition to academisation has so far come from grass roots campaigns. Since the Conservative-led coalition stepped up the transformation of schools into academies, official lines of opposition have been delivered from the National Union of Teachers and the Labour Party, but without any robust campaigning.

Disappointingly, Labour’s shadow education minister, Lucy Powell, has been somewhat lacklustre in her responses to academisation. In the case of my child’s school in Manchester (which she coincidentally attended herself as a pupil), her response was to refuse to offer her opinion on whether the school should convert or not. She adopted the party line of the school governors – that it is better to take control of academisation than to be forced into it. She later stated that plans to remove the consultation process for schools that the government deem coasting was a problematic development that needed to be avoided.

Yet the consultation process for Parrs Wood High School highlights the redundancy of such a process when a governing body is prepared to make decisions regardless of the opinions of those with an interest in the future of the school. A freedom of information request in relation to the consultation process revealed that 81% of staff, 75% of parents and 71% of outside agencies said no to academisation, still the decision to convert was taken. This gives a whole new meaning to the notion of forced academisation.

Surely there is a better way. The debate on academisation needs to focus on the question of what the benefits are. Academisation leads to increased connection between state education and private sector businesses. Therefore the fear that academisation is another step towards the privatisation of the education system is something that can no longer be ignored.

 

Read more articles from the Conversation

 

It should be noted that the Conversation includes a disclosure statement stating that Dr Ingram is affiliated with both the Labour Party and the Paws Off Parrs Wood campaign.

That said, what do you make of the issues she raises here?

Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

 

The Conversation

Are you a trainee teacher, NQT, teacher, headteacher, parent or  just someone who cares about education and has something to get off  your chest in a Schools Improvement Guest Post? Follow this link for more details at the bottom of the page.

Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin (around 7am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link.

We now have a Facebook page - please click to like!

 

Secret Teacher: Last-minute revision classes do more harm than good
Parents ‘passing on worries over school places to their children’
Categories: Academies, Parenting and Policy.

Comments

  1. VictoriaJaquiss

    Some of us have been campaigning forever on this issue, and so sad to watch one school after another picked off in exactly the way this writer described. All of us on my kids’ high school governing body who had repeatedly argued against academisation were sacked, the IEB consisted of all those who had backed the idea. The sacked governors included two teachers (me and one school rep), an councillor (and retired teacher), the technician school rep, a retired youth worker and a professor of education from Leeds Met/Beckett University.
    The only good thing about this stupid idea is that They are coming for us all now, and together we can be strong. For our kids’s sake, we better had be.

  2. VictoriaJaquiss

    Some of us have been campaigning forever on this issue, and so sad to watch one school after another picked off in exactly the way this writer described. All of us on my kids’ high school governing body who had repeatedly argued against academisation were sacked, the IEB consisted of all those who had backed the idea. The sacked governors included two teachers (me and one school rep), an councillor (and retired teacher), the technician school rep, a retired youth worker and a professor of education from Leeds Met/Beckett University.
    The only good thing about this stupid idea is that They are coming for us all now, and together we can be strong. For our kids’s sake, we better had be.

  3. Alan OSullivan

    Throw into the mix the removal of parent governors and there remains a burgeoning question mark regarding the thorny subject of accountability.

  4. Nairb1

    ‘The only good thing about this stupid idea is that They are coming for us all now …’
    There certainly coming for some people once all schools are academies. I wrote to the DfE asking them to justify their claim that academies improve faster than other schools. They didn’t, of course, just avoided answering the question but they did reveal the extent of their sophisticated thinking on school improvement: ‘ … all schools will be part of a dynamic system where underperformance can be addressed decisively by removing and replacing those in control of schools.’
    I wonder if the ‘dynamic system’ will be like a football league table. Get in the bottom four and you’re out. Or four hundred, or four thousand, because as the letter also said ‘direct accountability to the Secretary of State will enable swift action to be taken on under-performance …’ so the decision now rests with one person, in Westminster. So much for Cameron’s much publicised ‘localism.’

  5. TW

    And here was me thinking that the excruciatingly bad Lucy Powell was a marginal improvement on her NuLab predecessors.  I must have missed all those Labour “official lines of opposition” in the past.

  6. TW

    And here was me thinking that the excruciatingly bad Lucy Powell was a marginal improvement on her NuLab predecessors.  I must have missed all those Labour “official lines of opposition” in the past.

  7. TW

    And here was me thinking that the excruciatingly bad Lucy Powell was a marginal improvement on her NuLab predecessors.  I must have missed all those Labour “official lines of opposition” in the past.

  8. TW

    And here was me thinking that the excruciatingly bad Lucy Powell was a marginal improvement on her NuLab predecessors.  I must have missed all those Labour “official lines of opposition” in the past.

  9. idontbelieveit!

    An article that represents many if not most involved in education. So why is there so little reported opposition? Could it be that those in control of the newspapers have something to gain from a system, including Free Schools, because they live in affluent areas that might gain from such a system? What about everyone else that will have less say and choice in their child’s education. They will be the same ones who will have the headlines in 10 years, or less, saying ‘who let this happen!’

  10. AlfredoNokez1

    SchoolsImprove We shouldn’t under-estimate the good classroom management training teachers get. Putting it into practise is still not easy

  11. Those of us who have argued against academization have been constantly dismissed as ‘enemies of promise’, the Blob etc.  Most of the media from the Times to the Mail have lapped it up.  Some Times editorials could have been written by Gove (he used to be a Times leader writer).  Gove is a friend of Times; owner Murdoch who launched a company ‘Amplify’ which he hoped would allow News Corp to enter the education ‘market’ globally worth billions a year.  Gove is also a friend of Lord Rothermere, owner of the Mail where his wife Sarah Vine works as a feature writer.  Opposition to academies isn’t likely to be raised much in these papers.
    Labour was useless opposing the policy.  That’s probably because it introduced academies and deception about them has been going on since they first began.
    Fear now rules the education system in England: fear from enforced conversion causes schools to jump before they’re pushed; fear from being labelled ‘failing’, ‘coasting’, ‘underperforming’, not closing the achievement gap.
    But fear is not a desirable feature of an education system.  It blights teaching and children are the losers.

  12. Bert Buckley

    I draw your attention to the plight of the 400 plus further education colleges in England and Wales, who were ‘freed’ from local authority control in 1993, a process called incorporation.

    After the incorporation parties subsided, a new reality descended on the Sector. The government created the FEFC, Further Education Funding Council (bead of sweat rolls down my temple) and its CEO Bill (later, Sir William) Stubbs  subjected the sector to an uncompromising level of efficiency
    by imposing 5 per cent “efficiency
    savings” year-on-year between 1994 and
    1998 — years of austerity. Conditions of service were savaged as senior managers struggled to deliver savings were none could be made.the 20 year anniversary was ‘celebtrated’ with an snappy little supplement http://lsect.co.uk/College-anniversary-supp.pdf.

    This item was published in 2012 http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/04/academisation-is-this-the-equivalent-of-the-fe-sector%E2%80%99s-1993-moment

  13. Alice Roberts.

    Interestingly, Vicky Beer – Regional Schools Commissioner and soon to be Executive head teacher of Parrs Wood approved the conversion of Parrs Wood High School, without declaring an interest at the RSC meeting. She was previously an attendee member of Parrs Wood IEB when they were in special measures and did school collaboration when the exited special measures.

Let us know what you think...