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Children and Young People’s Services Select Committee – 17 January 2013 (Worthing High Petition)

by Press Officer on 19 January, 2013

 

Bob Smytherman’s Key Recommendations

ignored by Tory Councillors

1. The guidance provided by West Sussex County Council to schools considering becoming an Academy should be revised In the light of recent experience at Worthing High School, to encourage more effective consultation processes.

2..The Cabinet Member is requested to change the current policy of the Council from one which seeks to encourage all maintained schools within the county to become Academies, to one which supports schools to consider the most appropriate governance arrangements for them to improve outcomes for their pupils.

3. The Cabinet Member is asked to provide reassurance and evidence to the Committee about how he will ensure equality of access to all schools including academies, for children of all social backgrounds and aptitudes.

4. The Cabinet Member is asked to supply the Committee with details of his strategy to maintain current levels of support to maintained schools in the light of reduced funding.

5. West Sussex County Council have stated that they are in the process of producing guidelines on the developing partnership between academies and the County Council.

The Cabinet Member should set out how he plans to develop these guidelines with the input of parents and staff from the West Sussex Academy Watch group and other interested parties.

6. The Cabinet Member is requested to refer the need for firmer guidance from the Department for Education on consultation processes to the Schools Minister David Laws MP in the light of experience at Worthing high.

Counter Points to Statement by West Sussex County Council For Childrens and Young People’s Services Select Committee Debate

Summary
This paper shows that the greater involvement of the private sector, or for the marketisation of education flies in the face of the evidence which shows that this leads to greater social segregation. Therefore this push cannot be seen as anything but political and ideological. Micheal Gove is on record as saying that “The Academies programme is not about ideology. It’s an evidence-based, practical solution built on by successive governments – both Labour and Conservative.” And yet the evidence continually shows that left to their own devices schools competing in a fragmented education system will select children leading to greater social stratification. (see 1.1)

Proposals for Worthing High Academy Action Group or councillors to put to the Select Committee
1. West Sussex County Council should adopt a minimum standard framework for a school to leave local authority control and convert to academy status. (see 1.2.1)

2. This minimum standard framework based around ‘meaningful consultation’ should as a minimum include a public meeting, and a ballot of staff and parents. Moreover, governors should demonstrably engaging with all the evidence, including that which puts the case against conversion.

3. Local Authorities do have a duty to promote educational standards for all children. Therefore, as part of a minimum standard framework, West Sussex County Council should give ‘due regard’ to its Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) by insisting that as part of a public consultation into academy conversion every school carries out an impact assessment which assesses the risk of selection in the context of social segregation. (See 3.1.2)

4. Evidence should be provided that the strategy is “set in the context of school improvement” for children of all social backgrounds. (See 1.4.3)

5. The national £1bn overspend on academies shows the costly consequences of a policy of ‘encouragement’. WSCC should clearly state what portion of its budget cuts to maintained schools are as a result of this £1bn overspend. In this statement WSCC should also set out how they intend to support the remaining state schools which do not convert to academies. (See 1.6.1)

6. As WSCC state in para. 1.3, the West Sussex policy on academies is based on national policy. As this has been shown in various paragraphs above to be based on flawed evidence, WSCC should end its association with it by rejecting it. It should also cease encouraging schools to convert on the basis of this flawed evidence. (See 1.8.1 and evidence provided in 1.1)

7. In paragraph 3.3 of the council’s statement they refer to some guidelines in development for partnership between academies and the County Council. Are WSCC to allow the involvement of parents and staff in their various representative groups in the development of these guidelines?

See also corresponding paragraph references on original statement.
1. Background

1.1.
West Sussex County Council: “In its White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, the government set out its policy to encourage all schools to become academies.”

The international and domestic case for academies and free schools on which this white paper makes its case is based on some flawed research:

1.1.1. In its White Paper “The Importance of Teaching”, the government cites US Charter Schools as being “engines of progress”, and uses this evidence as a basis for which the Academy model will enhance social mobility. This research on US Charter Schools, conducted by Professor Caroline Hoxby, has been thoroughly discredited by Roy and Mishel, writing for the Economic Policy Institute. Roy and Mishel argue that: “Hoxby’s conclusion that “…the initial indications are that the average student attending a charter school has higher achievement than he or she otherwise would” does not hold up against direct controls for student background.” Moreover research conducted by the American Federation of Teachers that found that charter school students had lower achievement in both reading and mathematics than students in regular public (state) schools.

1.1.2. In its white paper, the government also remarks on City Technology Colleges (CTC’s) providing a “striking testimony to the power of autonomy [in schools]” and goes on to cite a litany of evidence for this. Most of this evidence relies on a correlation between autonomy and social mobility based of rates of achievement against proportion of students eligible for free school meals. CTC’s, introduced by Margaret Thatcher as a halfway house between independent and state schools, were funded by a business or ‘sponsor’ thereby introducing the market into the state education system. Far from increasing social mobility, CTC’s have come in for some significant criticism for selection based on ‘aptitude’. Fionna Millar writes that CTC’s were “able to set their own admissions and use opaque “banding” tests or interviews to engineer more favourable intakes for themselves.” Ultimately CTC’s were an expensive folly. Few businesses were prepared to take part, as Derek Gillard points out, and the taxpayer was left to foot the bill. Fast-forward 30 years, after New Labour transformed CTC’s into academies, and here we are again. Now, struggling state schools face swingeing Tory cuts to pay for an obscene £1 billion overspend on the government’s Academies programme. Even the Academies Commission – which was designed to add some evidence based gloss to the ideology – has been critical about the way in which autonomy can, and is used by academies to select and therefore “entrench rather than mitigate social inequalities.”

1.1.3. The last peg on which the government’s white paper hangs its case is the evidence of the success of Swedish free schools. And, unsurprisingly, criticism abounds here too over the social implications of allowing free market principles into state education. SNS, a pro-market government think-tank has admitted as much, stating that allowing business into the Swedish state education system has increased social segregation and led to little, if any, improvement in educational standards.

1.1.4. These recurring themes of pushing for the greater involvement of the private sector, or for the marketisation of education flies in the face of the evidence which shows that this leads to greater social segregation. Therefore this push cannot be seen as anything but political and ideological. Micheal Gove is on record as saying that “The Academies programme is not about ideology. It’s an evidence-based, practical solution built on by successive governments – both Labour and Conservative.” And yet the evidence continually shows that left to their own devices schools competing in a fragmented education system will select children leading to greater social stratification.

1.1.5. Given the evidence presented here in 1.1.1, 1.1.2, and 1.1.3 West Sussex County Council should not simply be blindly following government policy, but should instead engage with it critically and represent their constituents by properly scrutinising the evidence, as we have done here.

1.2. Note that ‘Converting Academies’, as they are described in this statement outline the process in which they are to be the sponsors of the future. Given Micheal Gove’s recent admission that he is “open-minded over state schools being run for profit” it certainly seems like this is the scene that is being set.

1.2.1. Given the lack of a minimum standard framework for schools to consult on, let alone to convert to academy status, it is imperative that West Sussex County Council provides this safeguard prior to the school leaving Local Authority control. (See proposals)

1.3. West Sussex County Council: “In light of this national policy West Sussex County Council has also agreed a policy to encourage all schools in the county to convert to academy status. The policy recognises that the decision to convert remains with the governing body of the school”

1.3.1. There is no mandate for this national policy based on flawed research (see 1.1.1, 1.1.2 and 1.1.3). There is also no mandate for this local policy which effectively transfers state-owned assets to private organisations. When WSCC says it has agreed this policy, with whom has it been agreed with?

1.3.2. WSCC says the decision to convert remains with the governing body of the school. Whilst this may be true in principle for converter academies it certainly isn’t true for sponsored ones. Portfield Primary School in Chichester, for example, found itself on the DfE list of the worst 200 performing primary schools and was told to find a sponsor, which it did – The Kemnal Academies Trust. Where schools have objected to this process, such as at Downhills in London, the school has often been subjected to enormous political pressure including the forced removal of the governing body.

1.3.3. At Worthing High, whilst the final decision to convert was taken by the governing body of the school, in reality the project was driven by the school’s Headteacher, Chair of Governors and Business Manager. These three individuals effectively waged a campaign to convince the rest of the governing body of the merit of conversion. Alternative points of view were not permitted to reach the governors. A parents action group, trade unions representing overwhelming staff opposition, and even the schools own Parents Forum were repeatedly denied the chance to put an alternative argument across. It would therefore be more accurate to say that whilst the decision for schools opting to convert to academy status remains with the governing body, this decision is often ill-informed and driven by the agenda of a few individuals.

1.4. West Sussex County Council: “The strategy to implement this policy is set in the context of school improvement. It states that “priority will be given to working with schools that are persistently at or below “floor” targets, and/or are in an OFSTED category or at risk of going into an OFSTED category””

1.4.1. There is a lack of evidence to support this statement nationally or locally. And if the cost of an individual school’s improvement is increased social segregation due to its reliance on selection then the policy is at best set in the context of school improvement for a narrow strata of the population. See 1.1.1, 1.1.2 and 1.1.3.

1.4.2. There is a contradiction in this statement when taken together with 1.3 (and counter point 1.3.2). Given that those schools below the floor targets will be forced to convert to academy status by the DfE, why would WSCC need a policy which prioritises these schools?

1.4.3. Further evidence should be provided that the strategy is “set in the context of school improvement” for children of all social backgrounds given those opponents of academies have been accused of standing in the way of progress and social mobility. Some sketchy data is provided in 1.7 but this is inadequate for the reasons given (see relevant counter points). In fact, researchers Wrigley and Kalambouka have found that Academy GCSE headline results have been inflated by the “…extensive use of equivalent qualifications. Without these ‘equivalents’, pupils in academies are only two-thirds as likely to gain five or more A*-C grades.”

1.5. No notes

1.6. These figures represent a poor return against the national average for West Sussex County Council given this policy to ‘encourage’ academy conversion. Nevertheless, the numbers are significant and do cabinet members have any comment to make on the proportion of the national £1bn overspend on academies that has gone to West Sussex academies at the expense of other state schools?

1.6.1. The national £1bn overspend on academies shows the costly consequences of a policy of ‘encouragement’. WSCC should clearly state what portion of its budget cuts to maintained schools are as a result of this £1bn overspend. In this statement WSCC should also set out how they intend to support the remaining state schools which do not convert to academies. (see proposals)

1.7. See below

1.7.1. West Sussex County Council: “Trends in the performance of recently converted schools cannot be assessed as they do not yet have a track record”

1.7.1.1. Whilst nobody could deny that schools must be given time to improve, it appears that this time is not given to state schools forced into academisation. As WSCC state themselves in paragraph 1.4 “priority will be given to working with schools that are…at risk of going into an OFSTED category.” 1.4.2 highlights the contradiction contained within WSCC policy, DfE policy and schools already in an OFSTED category whereas this statement highlights the contradiction for those schools at risk of an OFSTED category and the use of performance data to determine the relative success of state schools and academies.

1.7.2. WSCC goes on to cite the improved performance (“after a poor start”) of academies established under New Labour and suggests the more recently converted academies will follow a similar trend. Yet Wrigley and Kalambouka have taken an even longer view and find that, on most indicators, academies converted in 2002 and 2006 perform no better than other academies. Their research also shows that disadvantaged pupils achieve no better results even in these longer-established academies.

1.7.3. WSCC cite some GCSE data in support of the statement that these older academies are improving. In most cases however, they have had much more room to improve. Wrigley and Kalambouka show that older academies tend to come from a background of deprivation and that many have radically changed in terms of pupil characteristics since conversion. Comparing the older, more deprived, state maintained school with the newer academy which has pupils with a different characteristic mix is not comparing like with like. Therefore, as Wrigley and Kalambouka state: “it is difficult to see…them as continuations of severely disadvantaged schools in terms of pupil profile.”

1.7.4. Lastly WSCC state that these older academies “are now performing close to the West Sussex average” which is hardly a ringing endorsement for the model of school favoured by the school improvement evangelists in this supply side revolution.

1.7.5. The above would suggest that counter to WSCC statement in para. 1.4 there is no evidence that this policy is being applied “in the context of school improvement.”

1.8. West Sussex County Council: “The West Sussex policy on academies was agreed through the democratic processes of the County Council.”

1.8.1. This is not true. As WSCC state in para. 1.3, the West Sussex policy on academies is based on national policy. As this has been shown in various paragraphs above to be based on flawed evidence, WSCC should end its association with it by rejecting it. It should also cease encouraging schools to convert on the basis of this flawed evidence. (see proposals)

2. Support for converting schools

2.1. No notes
2.2. No notes

2.3. WSCC states unproblematically that the allocation of a sponsor is a DfE decision. In para. 1.3 WSCC states that the decision to convert remains with the governing body of the school even if we have shown that in our experience this has not been the full picture (1.3.3). It could be that WSCC refers only to ‘converter’ academies and not sponsored ones. However as this statement is given unproblematically it fails to acknowledge the considerable controversy that surrounds the DfE arbitrarily removing this power from governing bodies. Schools are rarely given the opportunity to improve in their current structures (see 1.7.1.1) and the case of Downhills school in London as testimony to this. The removal of a governing body’s power in a public institution represents a serious democratic deficit that WSCC accepts without question.

2.4. West Sussex County Council: “West Sussex County Council encourages all converting schools to carry out a meaningful consultation with parents and the local community.”

2.4.1. We should ask WSCC to clarify what exactly constitutes encouragement in this context?

2.4.2. We also ask for a minimum standard framework around said ‘meaningful consultation’ which should as a minimum include a public meeting, and a ballot of staff and parents. Moreover, governors should be showing to be demonstrably engaging with all the evidence, including that which puts the case against conversion. (see proposals).

3. Holding academies to account

3.1. West Sussex County Council: “As emphasised in Sir Michael Wilshaw’s recent annual report, local authorities have a duty to promote educational standards for all children, including those in academies.”

3.1.1. As shown repeatedly by the Academies Commission (see 1.1.2), by academics, and through investigations in the media, academies are more likely to select children on ability than other schools. Therefore, West Sussex County Council (the local authority) are failing by this measure since they are not promoting educational standards for all children.

3.1.2. Local Authorities do have a duty to promote educational standards for all children. Therefore, as part of a minimum standard framework, West Sussex County Council should give ‘due regard’ to its Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) by insisting that as part of a public consultation into academy conversion every school carries out an impact assessment which assesses the risk of selection in the context of social segregation.

3.2. WSCC state that the CM for Education and Schools “encourages all academies to appoint a local authority governor to their board.” Again, we should ask for some clarity on what constitutes ‘encouragement’. If an academy refuses to do this, are there any consequences? How is this enforceable.

3.2.1. Following this, the same criteria should be applied to the secondary point WSCC make with regard to ‘challenging’ senior managers of Academy Trusts in regard to their strategies for raising achievement in their schools. How is this challenge manifested? What safeguards are there? And how are strategies that do not satisfy the CM dealt with?

3.3. West Sussex County Council: “Work is in hand to produce clear guidelines for developing partnership between academies and the County Council…ensuring elected members can carry out their democratic mandate”

3.3.1. This statement is encouraging though the question has to be asked why this was not considered a vital initiative to complete before the council adopted a policy of encouraging all West Sussex schools to convert. Why wasn’t this done?

3.3.2. We should call for the involvement of parents and staff in their various representative groups to be involved in the development of these guidelines. (see proposals)

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