Keep Primary Schools Local

Now is the time for all those that believe primary schools are best kept under local democratic control to take action.

Please email or write to your MP asking them to defend the present position and to stop the government forcing all schools to become nationally controlled academies.

If you go to church this weekend, lobby your priest, vicar, minister or other faith leader, since the Churches, and to a much lesser extent other faiths, have a large interest in primary schools. Contact your local councillor and find out their views.

This is not a new campaign on my part to keep primary schools under local democratic control. Before the budget announcement I wrote on this blog about the BBC announcement foreshadowing the nationalisation of all schools that:

The interesting question is whether there is enough unity in the Conservative Party at Westminster to agree to ditch their chums in local government and fully nationalise the school system. Local government won’t enjoy being left with schools places, annual admissions and transport plus, presumably, special needs.

As I have pointed out in previous posts it is difficult to see how a fully academy structure built around MATs can save the government money to spend on the front-line. It is also an open question whether there is enough leadership capacity to staff such a system. I predicted this outcome way back in a post in February 2013https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2013/02/ when I wrote that:

“a National School Service is quietly emerging, with Whitehall connecting directly to schools. Localism it may be, but not democratically elected localism. A national funding formula, administered by schools where the Secretary of State determines who will be able to be a governor, and whether or not new schools are needed, and who will operate them, seems more like a NHS model than a local school system.”

So, I welcome the support of a number of Tory local cabinet members from across the country for the view that local authorities should still to decide how local education works and retain a general oversight of education, rather than transferring such powers to Westminster; especially for primary schools.

I heard Melinda Tilley, the Tory cabinet member for Education in Oxfordshire, where I have been a Lib Dem county councillor since May 2103, calling the government’s move to academisation a ‘diktat’. This contrast sharply with the silence from Labour on the issue, but then it was Labour that invented the academy programme.

Primary schools are an essential part of local communities, some face immense challenges in serving those communities, and not all may achieve their best every year for a whole host of reasons. There will always be a need for a school improvement service, and primary schools have worked in partnerships for years before governments at Westminster decided a free for all market approach was better than cooperation. The fact that the market approach failed wasn’t the fault of local authorities; nationalisation isn’t the answer.

 

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14 thoughts on “Keep Primary Schools Local

  1. Wholesale academization would place primary schools under the control of multi-academy trusts (MATs) who would exercise more power than local authorities do. If that isn’t bad enough, it threatens the existence of small rural primaries. There’s been a discussion about this on Warwick Mansell’s blog for the Cambridge Primary Review Trust. One of my contributions (scroll down) describes the situation in Lincolnshire where the council admitted in 2011 that a very large number of their small primaries would be at risk (although this didn’t stop the council voting for all Lincolnshire’s schools to become academies preferably with CfBT). See here: http://cprtrust.org.uk/cprt-blog/we-need-to-talk-about-structures/

    • Janet,

      Thank you for your prompt response and authoritative comment. The evidence is mounting, now is the time for those that believe in local government and local decision-making to apply the pressure to Tory MPs, councillors – especially those standing this May – and the faith groups responsible for a large number of primary schools.

      Spread the word.

      John Howson

  2. I am a governor of the only secondary school in the county which is not an academy. The governors do not wish to become an academy, but we are faced with no choice. If it happens we would like to be standalone, not sure this will happen either. Should we then go with the MAT that offers the most capital investment (can we hawk ourselves in this manner?). Should we go early or late?

    • Frank,

      I fear the game has been up for secondary since Gove rushed through the 2010 Act. As a result, I would go early and hawk yourself around to get the best deal and if none looks good enough use power to become a converter academy if that is still possible, and then await developments. how helpful is your local authority?

      John

      • John Tomsett, head of Huntington School which is still a secondary non-academy, discusses just this scenario in ‘Schools Week’ here http://schoolsweek.co.uk/headteacher-promises-non-corporate-academy-chain-if-forced-to-convert/.

        I think the Government is gambling on schools jumping before they’re pushed but there are still abut 35% of secondaries which have not converted. (DfE figures to March 2016). Your options are:

        (a) to stay as you are in the hope you’ll weather the storm (this will only work if you’re secure your results will remain above the benchmark and you won’t get an Ofsted judgements less than Good);
        (b) decide to become a stand-alone converter (but it’s likely in the future stand-alones will be encouraged to become a multi-academy trust with other schools under your wing OR be expected to join another MAT);
        (c) decide to look round for a multi-academy trust to join but bear in mind your governing body would only have as much power as the MAT would allow you. Some advice here from ‘Schools Week’ http://schoolsweek.co.uk/academy-conversion-is-an-unnecessary-distraction-but-heres-how-to-survive-it/
        (d) none of the above if your schools Inadequate or your results are low over three years (in which case, even a Good or better Ofsted wouldn’t save you). Your Regional Schools Commissioner will send in ‘advisers’ to broker sponsorship with a MAT not necessarily of your choice.

        In the meantime, join any campaign against wholesale conversion, write to your MP, lobby, blog, write to local papers, leave comments on threads like John’s above, DisappointedIdealist, Schools Week articles, Local Schools Network (where I mostly blog). Make your voice and those of your fellow governors heard.

      • Janet,

        That will come if everyone spreads the word. Re-tweet; re-post and reply to those that want academies with arguments for local democracy.

        John Howson

    • Janet,

      if Regulations have not been followed, has the law been broken and was it wilful. If so, at what point does the EFA pass its concerns to the police and the CPS, or do they leave that to whistleblowers as well?

      John

      • I think this comment was probably meant for the other thread where I wrote about whistleblowers’ complaints triggering EFA investigations.
        I, too, wondered if the law had been broken. There are precedents: ex-principal Sajid Hussain Raza is on trial for fraud at the Kings Science Academy and the ex-CEO together with the former finance officer at the Priory Federation are also both on trial for fraud.
        I’m not sure what criteria the EFA uses to decide whether the financial laxity is illegal or just incompetent (but, there again, ignorance of the law is no excuse). But what surprises me is that the trustees behind the incompetence are the ones given the job of getting the trust’s Financial Notice to Improve to be lifted. They should be replaced.

      • Janet,

        Thanks. If you should have at least asked questions and didn’t you turned a blind eye. I am concerned that MATs are exempt charities and thus subject to presumably to the DfE and not the Charity Commissioners.

        John

      • The Secretary of State is the Principal Regulator for exempt charities such as academies and foundation schools. This runs into thousands. It’s difficult to understand how the SoS can regulate that many schools. In theory the Principal Regulator shouldn’t investigate problems with charities under his/her aegis but this seems to be the usual course of action with academies. The EFA investigates. It seems very thorough but, as I said above, it appears to wait until alerted by whistleblowers unless auditors notice any problem and ‘qualify’ accounts. In that case, the auditors are supposed to let the EFA and the NAO know.

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