School academies – handle with care

Some governing bodies may well be considering whether to convert from being a Local Authority (LA) school to becoming an independent state-funded school, i.e. an academy.

There are two areas of inducement for schools to convert to academy status, the first one is freedom, and the second is money

As far as freedom is concerned, the Government White Paper clearly indicates that all schools will soon have greater freedom to decide their own curriculum, so there’s no need to be an academy for that.

In reality Calderdale LA does not ‘control’ schools and has not done so for over 20 years. It does provide a range of services and especially a back-up crisis management capability.

Changing the school day and the pattern of terms could cause chaos for families.

 In practice, no state-funded school can be fully autonomous. Academies will be answerable directly to the Secretary of State who will have the power to close them down, without consultation, if he thinks they are performing badly. An academy can’t change its mind, once in you are committed for seven years. The alleged ‘freedoms’ are illusory or potentially dangerous.

Much has been made of the new money that the academy will receive, what is surprising about this is the claim by the DfE that; ‘the government is clear that a school converting to an academy will not have a financial advantage or disadvantage’.

From April 2011, this money will be clawed back from the general grant given to Local Authorities for all their work, including adult social care, road maintenance, gritting etc. This money will be clawed back from all authorities, irrespective of the number of academies.

 What this means in practice is that, in order to allow a few schools, to become independent the most vulnerable will see the budgets cut back even further.

Leaving aside all the technical details, do we want to see Calderdale schools competing in the market-place for customers (pupils), or do we want to see educational provision coordinated and supported by a democratically elected authority who have the overall responsibility of ensuring appropriate cost-effective provision and support for all pupils, regardless of ability, health, material circumstances and family background?

Surely what is needed is the chance for all pupils to attend a good local school.

Sue McMahon

Calderdale NUT Divisional Secretary