Stop Forcing Academies Onto The Communities Say Teaching Unions

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Parents and pupils from the Downhills School lobbying the Department of Education against the school being taken over by Harris
Parents and pupils from the Downhills School lobbying the Department of Education against the school being taken over by Harris

THE National Union of Teachers has condemned the wholesale forced academisation of state-run education measures contained in the Tory government’s Education and Adoption Bill.

Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the NUT, also denounced Education Secretary Morgan’s attacks and accusations against those in their community who campaign against academisation, including forced academisation. He said: ‘The Department for Education’s press release has been timed to coincide with the passage of the Education and Adoption Bill through the Lords.

‘If passed without amendment, this Bill could result in thousands more schools being forced into sponsored academy arrangements against the wishes of local communities. ‘This is despite the absence of evidence that academy status results in improved standards. Even the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, has been forced to concede that the Government “does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools”.

‘Crucially the Bill removes the consultation rights for parents, teachers and governors who in future would have no say over whether their school should become an academy, or the sponsor who would take it over. Nor would they be entitled to any information on the relative performance of the proposed sponsors compared with their local authority.

‘It is therefore the undemocratic and illiberal Education and Adoption Bill which is underhand and intimidating, not the parents, grandparents and supporters of campaigns against forced academisation. The unsubstantiated attacks by the DfE on parents and local communities whose only crime has been to defend their school against the government’s strong-arm-route tactics to force schools into academy status, including deploying bullying academy brokers, is utterly shameful.

‘Under Nicky Morgan’s watch, the Department has plumbed new depths. Furthermore some of the “success” claimed by academy heads, as cited in the press release, was occurring before these schools became academies. For example, results of SATs tests taken in May 2012 at Downhills, four months before the school was taken over by Harris,  show progress in English exceeded the national average (89%) by two percentage points (91%); while progress in Maths was just one percentage point (86%) below the national average (87%).

‘It is not possible to make a direct comparison with the Key Stage 2 performance score for reading and maths prior to Downhills becoming an academy because from 2013 the reading national curriculum test and writing teacher assessment results were no longer combined to produce an overall English level. Instead, reading and writing results were reported on separately.

‘This is yet another example of shoddy statistics emanating from the Department for Education. The government’s assault on parents is a far cry from its claims that its academy and free school programme would give parents more “choice” and a greater say in their child’s education. It is quite clear with this latest pronouncement from Nicky Morgan that the government will stop at nothing to railroad schools, parents and communities into being forced to accept a school system that is neither wanted nor needed and for which there is no evidence base.

‘Nicky Morgan should be concentrating on the real problems faced by schools such as a growing teacher recruitment and retention crisis and huge pressure on budgets and growing pupil populations. It is ridiculous that these issues are being ignored while the government fixates on pushing through yet more privatisation.’

Courtney also criticised analysis by the New Schools Network which questions the validity of Ofsted judgements for schools rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. Courtney said: ‘As the Education and Adoption Bill makes its way through Parliament we have witnessed a series of pro-academy propaganda pieces from supporters and those government-funded organisations, such as the New Schools Network, that promote its academy and free school programme.

‘The NUT is not uncritical of Ofsted. However it is an independent inspectorate, accountable to Parliament. Its inspectors judge schools, taking into account a range of evidence. It is better able to judge the quality of education provided by a school than the New Schools Network which, as its press release demonstrates, does not appear to understand the meaning of an average and recognise that some schools will be above and below average.

‘The NSN misunderstands the current levelling system applied to primary schools. A child that does not reach Level 4 has not “failed to get the basics on reading, writing and adding up” as NSN claims.

‘In fact the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot, has rebuked the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, for making such claims.

‘He wrote to the Secretary of State in December 2014, pointing out that “children who do not reach Level 4, but nevertheless attain Level 3, are able to read a range of texts fluently and accurately; write in a way which is often organised, imaginative and clear; and add and subtract numbers with two digits mentally and numbers with three digits using written methods”.

‘The Education and Adoption Bill aims to force thousands more schools into sponsored academy status through its new definition of a “coasting” school. These are schools that fail to meet arbitrary attainment and progress measures, as set by Government. Yet such schools may well be “good” or “outstanding” schools, as judged by Ofsted. It is therefore necessary to undermine these Ofsted judgements in order to hoodwink the public for the assault on their schools that will occur if this Bill becomes law without amendment.

‘The government and the NSN would much prefer all schools to be judged by arbitrary raw data than by an inspection carried out by a qualified team.’