We should not risk the commercialisation of children’s education

EDITOR – Re the merger and potential application for academy status of the five Louth and area schools.

It is most welcome that the heads and chairs of governors claim they will fully consult with the parents, pupils and community. However, this can only be done when all cases for and against the proposal are placed in the public domain.

I wish to present some of the reasons why we should be very worried about these proposals.

Presently, all of these schools are under local authority control. This is not always a perfect system, but it does ensure there is co-ordinated planning when it comes to admissions, teacher training and development, early years services and special educational needs provision.

Each school is run by a board of governors, some elected by parents and staff and some appointed by the local authority. Thus, the community as a whole ‘owns’ the school as it holds the governors AND our locally-elected councillors to account.

Under academy status, a school no longer comes under local authority control. Its budget is set and comes directly from central government, and it is then given ‘freedom’ to buy in the services it requires, either from the LA or from a private provider. They have power to set their own term dates and staff pay and conditions.

Ultimate power within the school shifts from the governing body to an unelected trust board who can serve for a unspecified length of time.

Thus many of the measures currently in place to ensure accountability to the community are lost.

The government claims academy status gives schools greater autonomy and hands them back to the community. It is not difficult to see that what it does do is hand schools over to market forces under the direct control of the Secretary of State. This is centralisation back to the government, not power to the community

Other points I wish to make in relation to this specific case:

l This proposal removes the option of choice for the vast majority of families in the area. If a child does not want to take, or does not pass the 11+, (or passes but does not get a place at a grammar), they will be severely restricted in their choice of school.

l Many parents, me included, carefully view schools prior to transition from primary. We are free to apply to the school which bests meets our child’s needs – both educationally and pastorally.

Thus those of us who have chosen a school because it promotes and celebrates its small size and ability to know and nurture its pupils accordingly will feel angry and let down if this merger goes ahead.

Providing strong pastoral care is a huge challenge to any school of the scale proposed.

l The five heads all claim that any proposals have to ensure an increase in educational standards. But academy status does not guarantee this, and the DE’s own figures show concerning inconsistency in academy results. In countries such as Sweden, they have seen a DECLINE in educational attainment since schools were able to function out of LA control.

l In this age of cuts, heads may be tempted to opt for academy status to obtain more funding. This is especially true where an area is experiencing a decline in pupil numbers such as the Louth area.

However, evidence from the Anti-Academies Alliance and the Local School Network indicate that final finance agreements with the DE can, in fact, be very disappointing. They suggest that by the time schools have purchased back the services lost from the LA, there may be no, or very little extra money. These final agreements are not made until AFTER a school has committed to convert, thus there is no way of judging this until well after the decision has been made. It would be an immense tragedy if we were sold a pup regarding our children’s education.

l The range and diversity of schools in the area allow for a healthy competition, and help keep school standards high. We are very lucky to have good schools with individual and strong leaders. But this can, and does change. A poor performing head, or a poor governing body for the newly-proposed one size fits all school would be disastrous for the region’s children.

My fear is that these proposed changes will let in the private sector at the back door of our schools and educational standards out the front.

Would it not be best for our schools to carry on the steady course they have set and see how things settle in the coming months and even years? The Louth area has a long history of resisting the stampede of market forces to retain its integrity and life.

If we will fight to avoid the commercialisation of our high street, why should we be willing to commercialise the education of our best and most valuable assets – our children?

For more information on a local campaign to fight these proposals, please contact sarah-dodds@sky.com, or join our Facebook page Save Louth Schools.

Sarah Dodds

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