This piece on local primary schools being forced to accept academy status is from Richard Burden, MP for Birmingham Northfield:
“Bullying schools? Moi?” is what I expect the man from the DfE to say next. But that is what is happening with Michael Gove’s Forced Academies programme. Like a lot of other bullying in schools, the culprit often protests innocence and it’s difficult to prove because the victim is frightened to speak out. But you still know it’s happening.
Birmingham has a number of primary schools on Mr Gove’s “hit list” for conversion into academies. It’s sometimes difficult to find out exactly which they are. Not surprisingly the schools themselves are reticent to have such information published. You can understand their fear of being stigmatised as “failures”, even though the list itself is none of their making and they will not necessarily have done anything to warrant being on it.
But they still get to find out that they are on that hit list.
Sometimes they may be invited to a meeting.
Sometimes they may get a phone call from the man from the ministry.
Sometimes it may be a visit from an officer of the local Council wringing their hands and saying that academy status is the way the Government wants the school to go and there is not much they can do about it.
“Isn’t there an alternative?” the head may ask. That’s likely to provoke an understanding shake of the head.
“You can always try to resist it” comes the reply, “But this is the way things are going and the Government may close you down if you don’t do what they say. Or they could remove the Governors and impose an academy anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to go for it now while you have some control of the process rather than have something foisted on you later? I know you care about the children and it’s all about getting school standards up, you see.”
“But wait a minute,” the head may say, “Aren’t the results figures you are using out of date? What about the change programme we introduced a couple of years ago and the improved results we got last year and the forward plans we already have?”
“I know – and that’s excellent – but the results reference period is what it is I’m afraid. The improvements you are making will make you even more attractive to an academy sponsor. Don’t worry. We are here to help you every step of the way.”
As long as you do what you are told.
It’s appalling to see this happening to schools in Birmingham. Worse than that, so very little of what is said to schools is ever put in writing. This was graphically exposed by a BBC Radio 4 Report a few weeks back. It mirrors what I have heard and seen for myself.
In the meantime, dedicated heads and governors are left in an invidious position. Some will resist what is being foisted on them and rightly so. As a local MP, I have backed schools which have made that decision. In other schools, circumstances may be different. We should not condemn heads or governing bodies whose genuine judgement is that the interests of children will be best served right now by going down the academy road. Faced with a local education authority as dysfunctional as Birmingham has proved to be in recent years, you can understand why some heads and governors reach that conclusion. It is always important that they continue to operate as part as a local family of schools rooted in communities but at least some may judge that they are as likely to be able to do that as an academy.
They should have the right to make those judgements, in consultation with the communities they serve. But it should be a local decision. Not one forced on them by covert Ministerial bullying.
That’s why the Forced Academies programme is wrong.
Richard Burden is Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield