Tuesday, 17 May 2016

What you need to know about Academy Schools

Under immense public pressure, the government has rowed back from its threat to force all schools to become academies, but it has made it clear that it will still force many other to do so and it still wants all schools to be academies by 2020.  

It can seem like a dry and difficult issue, but it really matters if your school becomes an academy. In this blog we try to explain why.  

There is no evidence that Academy Schools are better schools 

 As various studies have shown and a committee of MPs reviewing the evidence concluded, there is no proof that becoming an academy does anything to improve a school. In fact there is evidence that academies that are part of chains may well deteriorate and perform worse than state schools. ecent studies have indicated that state schools overall are outperforming academies. One things you can definitely say about the drive to force schools to become academies is that it’s not based on evidence. 

Academy schools are more likely to undermine teachers working conditions and try to employ less qualifies staff. 

Teachers matter. You want the best teachers, respected and supported to teach our children. Academies run themselves like businesses, because they have to make a surplus every year and they often have to pay big senior staff salaries. The only way they can do this is by cutting staff costs. This can mean trying to squeeze more teaching out of hard-working staff or cutting access to other conditions of service. In an NUT survey, 43% of teachers at academies reported coming under pressure to move onto worse contracts with rising workloads.  

Academy Schools tend to exclude children they think may damage their results 

All schools are under pressure to deliver results in tests. But community schools have strict rules that say they have to provide education to everyone, equally. Academies have more freedom to change their admissions policies and when combined with the obsession with results, this can have terrible consequences. Studies have found that academies are manipulating their admissions criteria to skew their intake away from children they think will damage their Ofsted results. Academies are also resorting to permanently excluding children they see as a ‘poor quality’. How can you be sure that your child will not fall victim to academies attempting to ‘game’ their admissions or disciplinary policies in pursuit of results? And what would you do if you thought that was happening? Which leads us to… 

Academy schools are less accountable to parents 

If you have a problem with your school, as things stand, you have several ways of getting something done about it. You can raise it with the Local Authority or its elected representatives, who have a responsibility to ensure that the schools are delivering on their core mission for the borough. There are also parent governors who are currently elected to school governing bodies. Academies on the other hand are essentially private companies who have a legal contract with the government in Whitehall to provide education in your area. They have no other responsibility except to remain solvent. Who will you complain to if you have a problem? The government?
Academy schools become more like businesses   

Once a school becomes an academy, the people running it may remain the same for a while but the evidence shows that governors and staff can quickly turn over in academy schools. Academies typically look to make their governing bodies smaller and increase the power of ‘super-heads’ so that they become more like the directors of multi-company enterprises. And power is concentrated in fewer hands, the evidence suggests that academies are more vulnerable to financial mismanagement, cronyism and nepotism. Academies have been plagued by a succession of stories based on investigations by the Education Funding Agency, such as the Perry Beeches scandal. A school’s ethos simply won’t survive the changes that academy status brings.  

This is not about education – but turning our schools into sources of profit 

In summary, there’s little evidence that academisation is about standards and while the government has shied away from forcing all schools to become academies, it’s now clear that it was never really about giving parents more choice. In reality, this is part of a longer term project to break up state schools and turn them into private companies. This will make it easier to ultimately turn them into schools that can be run for profit, as in parts of the USA, Sweden and Latin America. It also provides huge opportunities for companies to sell education technology to companies to reduce their ‘costs’ (teachers) and for private equity funds to exploit schools’ land assets. A small number of people stand to make a lot of money out of our schools and our children’s education. That’s what is driving the government’s push to force schools to become academies. It brings their dream a little closer. Unfortunately the record of for-profit schools in the US and Sweden shows that while shareholders turn nice profits, it is children and communities that suffer.   

What can we do? 

The government’s recent actions show that it knows that the tide is turning against academies and free schools and they may be running out of time to force their vision on us. We need to build support for a more positive vision and more positive policies for our schools. That's one reason why  OCOS developed our Charter. But in the meantime, it is possible to stop some schools becoming academies and it’s possible to mitigate some of the worst effects of academisation. But this requires parents and teachers to unite to campaign and show that they are not prepared to sit back and watch their schools being taken away from them.  
  • Talk to other parents – set yourself a target to talk to three other parents and direct them to this blogsite where they can get more information. 
  • Let us know if you’re happy to be a local contact for your school – we need people to tell us what’s happening in our local schools and to give information out to other parents.  
  • Write to your local MP – Use the points in this post to write to your MP setting out your concerns about academisation and asking them to support our local schools. 
  • Write to your local Councillor – we need the Local Authority to hear the same message… 
  • Share this blog widely on social media. 
Help us turn this build an active community that unites parents and teachers alike in campaigning for better schools for all our children. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Parents explain why their children are not in school today

In this post, local parents explain why their children are being withdrawn from school as part of the 'Let Kids be Kids' national protest against testing:

"Our son Wilfred, 5, is on strike today because we feel strongly that kids are being pushed too hard too soon. Wilfred attends a school that does all it can to shelter him from the worst of the Conservative government’s approach to education, but there is only so much they can do. Taking part in the Kids’ Strike is a positive way we can express our disagreement with government policy. This day of fun learning is the antithesis of the prescriptive, pressured environment being created for our children by SATs and the acceleration of the National Curriculum. The agenda of forced academisation puts good local community schools, like Wilfred’s, at risk.  We stand together with teachers and other parents to say enough is enough, let our kids be kids." 

Elaine and Matthew Londesborough-van Rooyen, Parents 

"I love language. I’m a journalist, worked for five years as a TEFL teacher, did Latin and English at A level and learnt Spanish as an adult. The best way to learn a language is through exposure and immersion, not through the naming of parts. Being able to identify a subjunctive will not help my child write a better sentence or encourage her love of learning. Testing her repeatedly from a young age will not make her want to go to school. I’m taking part in Tuesday’s protest because I’m strongly opposed to the direction that education in this country is taking. The pressure that is being put on both teachers and children by SATs is unnecessary and unacceptable." 

Courtney Daniel, Journalist and parent

"This government is wrong. It's wrong about standardised testing for primary age children, it's wrong about forcing schools to become academies.  It's wrong about academies full stop. We have 4 primary school aged children and we are lucky, our local primary school is a wonderful place, navigating the choppy seas of education policy whilst still being child-centred and engendering a genuine love of learning in our children. It may then, come as a surprise that we will be taking part in today's strike action by removing our children from school. We are doing so in support if primaries and teachers across the country who find themselves undermined by a government bent on constant testing, grading and guidelines, who wish to push it's own idealistic, non-evidenced based agenda and in doing so are de-professionalising and de-moralising teachers,  who we, as parents, trust to nurture, guide and educate our children. As a parent, and a GP I find myself at critically at odds with the government over education policy and the future of the NHS. Like junior doctors, and the head teachers union, parents need to take a stand to protect our children."

Lynette Mason, GP and Parent 

"As a parent of a child in year one of primary school and a child in nursery, I fear for the future of my children’s education. The current government’s policy of repeated testing of our children at an increasingly young age is destroying this country’s education system and bringing the nation’s amazing teachers to their knees. The new curriculum, the new primary assessment framework and the tougher year two and year six tests are not what our children need to become lifelong learners. This testing is done in the name of educational attainment and of course I want my children to do well in life, but I also want them to be allowed to develop at their own pace. Our two children are enthused, challenged and nurtured on a daily basis by wonderful teachers and teaching assistants who know where they are in terms of their progress. I trust my children’s teachers to recognise when they are struggling and to support them to achieve the best they can. I want my children’s school to have the freedom to teach a broad range of skills and develop creativity, utilising all the teachers’ knowledge of education. I don’t want my children or their school continually judged on meaningless tests at the expense of all else. I trust my children’s school with their education, but I do not trust this government with our education system."

Heddy Korachi-alaoui – Teaching assistant and parent
Kirsten Brown – GP and parent

"I can only imagine how challenging it is to be a teacher in this age.  It is one of the reasons I have held off applying to become a teacher myself.  As someone who studied teaching and learning (as part of my PG Cert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education) I am only too aware of the challenges facing those wishing to enable learning in others.  It is such a shame that instead of using their hard learnt understanding of pedagogy, teachers instead are having to narrow their teaching to make pupils, children, test ready.  It is a waste that instead of using formative assessments as a learning tool, they are having to carry out summative assessments to feed back statistics to a government that seems to know nothing about pedagogy.  They lack any clear understanding of the philosophies of teaching and learning, or the multitude of ways in which individuals can learn and flourish.  So Elspeth is not at school today because I want to challenge the government.  I want to protect her future, and that of her two brothers currently in reception.  I want to stand up for all the other children who are struggling right now, who are stressed out and unhappy at school thanks to these bizarre tests."

Laura Lea Milling – Parent

"Taking our daughter out of her brilliant school has been an excruciatingly difficult decision to make. Particularly as I am a Parent Governor there. In fact the school navigates the testing landscape so well that students in Yr 2 don’t even know they are doing a test. How ridiculous that her fantastic teachers have to jump through these hoops. We’ve explained to her that although we all love her school, the people in charge of all of the schools in the country are making some very bad choices, and we have to send a message to them. We’ve spoken about how hard it is to make a stand and speak out when we think something is wrong.  If the same trajectory continues, Polly will be going to a secondary school run like a business, populated by unqualified teachers, and attended by increasing numbers of students with mental health issues due to an unforgiving exam-centred culture. The systematic dismantling of the Education system and every other public service by this government is nothing short of terrifying."

Michelle Hendry – Parent

"We feel strongly that initiatives such as constant and early testing and forced academisation are being implemented without due consideration for the implications, and that as a result our children face unnecessary testing and a curriculum that limits enjoyment and real understanding. We want our protest to demonstrate the trust we have in the teaching profession, and our desire that teachers be allowed to teach effectively and without constant constraint in order to embed a life-long love of learning in our children."

Sear Orr – Art Teacher and Parent
Agata Baranowska – Orr – Interpreter and parent