by Bob Whitehead

The three estates of Hawkesley, Pool Farm and Primrose in Kings Norton need a local secondary school for the benefit of the pupils and to help develop a sense of community. Most efforts to achieve that end are welcome, but the proposal to go for academy status by January 2012 under the control and sponsorship of ARK is not one of them.

ARK describes itself as an educational charity that “runs a range of health, welfare and education projects in the UK, Southern Africa, India and Eastern Europe.” Closer to home, it runs St. Albans CE School in Highgate.

If ARK were to take over the school, it would leave the local authority and be run by ARK on behalf of the Secretary of State. ARK would appoint a majority of the governors, and there would be much less space, if any, for parent governors. (One third is the general rule for local authorities). There would be no accountability to local Councillors.

This is the first argument against academy status; it leads to a great drop in democratic accountability. For the school to survive and thrive, it needs the active involvement of parents and the local community. They need to feel that the school is “theirs” and that they can have an input into it. That would be lost. Who would you run to if you had a problem that was not being resolved?

Kings Norton High School will lose the support of Birmingham’s central education services. It will have to buy in services that are currently provided by the Local Authority.

In the early days of academies, new buildings and extra money were part of the bribe to leave the local authority. There are no such massive promises today.

There is no evidence that converting to an Academy will have any educational benefit. The school has already, to its credit, raised its exam grades significantly while part of the Local Authority. KNHS is already a good school and fast improving. OFSTED said KNHS is a ‘good’ school with ‘outstanding care, guidance and support’ that ‘continues to improve rapidly’. Why the need to change its status then?

What happens to the Leisure Centre? This important and well-used facility based at KNHS needs to remain open for all the community to use.
The founders and many of the trustees of Ark are Hedge Fund Managers. These financiers are the kind of people that helped bring down HBOS and cause the financial crisis and recession that has affected us all. They are not the kind of people who should control our children’s education. In 2010 Ark Academies got over £46 million to educate children in eight schools, but withheld 7.5% of this budget for their own purposes.

ARK has already said that the teachers must work extra days and longer hours if they take over. Is this the way to motivate teachers to stay and identify with the school in its hour of need?

No, for all the reasons above, the Academy move is not a good idea. Parents should support their local school and keep it part of the local community and the community of schools in Birmingham. We are better off together than being hived off to private concerns. Harborne Hill School rejected ARK’s advances, so should Kings Norton High.

Hopefully, there will now be consultation and debate for the parents and community; something that will allow both sides of the argument to be put and a democratic decision taken afterwards.

Such a democratic process would also be a good way to draw local people towards involvement with the school. So, a well-advertised public meeting should be on the agenda of ARK, to be held in the near future, and this to be followed by a full parents’ ballot.

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Bob Whitehead is a local resident and activist.

For more information on the campaign contact:

Alliance against Birmingham Academies, c/o Birmingham NASUWT, Ludgate Court, 57 Water Street, Birmingham B3 1EP.

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