Primary school’s academy plans concerns both parents and council
27th March 2019
A PRIMARY school has raised ‘concerns’ from the county council over its plans to become an academy and also angered parents who say the move will not improve an already thriving school and will just hand it over to an ‘unelected and unaccountable’ body.
The governors and head teacher of Paddock Wood Primary School said they have been considering future options to help the school ‘maintain and develop high quality provision’.
Among these options is to turn the school into an academy and join Leigh Academies Trust.
In a statement, the school said that the benefits of converting to join the right multi-academy trust could be ‘considerable’.
The school said: “This would generate significant additional leadership time, which would directly benefit children in classes.”
They added that ‘recent and significant external changes’ have affected the way the school operates and that head teacher, Mr Scott Opstad, was spending ‘considerably less time’ leading learning and teaching.
These external changes are believed to be the way Kent County Council [KCC] delivers services to schools, which means that the senior leadership team has to deal with mundane issues such as maintenance, rather than just calling KCC.
However, this has raised concerns with education officials at the council who have requested ‘urgent clarification’ over the move.
Roger Gough, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, said: “Kent County Council has only very recently been contacted by Paddock Wood Primary School on the issue of its academisation, although we were aware some time ago that the proposal was being brought forward.”
Mr Gough continued: “It is not a decision for us and we do not seek to intervene. However, we are very concerned by statements issued by the Governors stating that changes made to how KCC works with schools have been a decisive factor in seeking this change of status.
“KCC continues to provide a wide range of support services to maintained schools, and in view of the school’s preferred timeframe for conversion we have therefore asked for urgent clarification from Governors on this and other matters.”
Parents are also unhappy with the move.
Charles Marshall, who has two sons at Paddock Wood Primary School, said: “The proposal that will see control gifted to a group of people in Rochester, people who are unelected and unaccountable to anyone except the Secretary of State for Education, people who may never have even heard of Paddock Wood.”
Mr Marshall has now started a petition, which has garnered more than 160 signatures, insisting parents get a say on the academy plan.
“All we are asking of the governors is that they allow all parents and carers - those who support the governors' proposal as well as those who disagree - a binding vote on this proposal to academise our local school.”
He continued: “The reason we want a vote is that they are taking something away from us. The school is a part of the community. It’s governed by local people and overseen by the democratically elected county council.”
A spokesperson for Paddock Wood Primary insisted that parents were being fully consulted on the proposals.
She said: "Governing bodies took a deliberate decision to speak to staff and parents informally at an early stage, some months before formal consultation begun.
“A large majority of parents and staff who have expressed an opinion are supportive of governors exploring this proposal. A very small number of parents have raised concerns.”
What are Academies?
The brainchild of Tony Blair’s government, academies were introduced in 2000, originally as a means to improve struggling schools.
Since then, around 7,500 former state schools have become academies. Most secondary schools now have academy status, as do around a quarter of primary schools.
Academies are independent schools run by a trust. They get their funding directly from the government, rather than their local council. They can also set their own term times and have their own curriculum as long as it is balanced and includes English, maths and science.
Converter academies are schools deemed successful enough to convert to academies in order to benefit from having more autonomy than a state run school.
The main attraction in academy status for most schools is autonomy, especially with regards the school budget. Rather than having a local education authority or county council spending the money, schools have more control over where funds are spent.
Supporters of academies say this in turn makes it easier to put in place better teaching, leadership, curriculums and accountability, leading to better standards.
Academies have faced heavy criticism from various groups including teachers, parents and politicians.
Some people see academisation as ‘privatisation by the back door’ leading to more selective schools.
Critics have also argued the freedom that comes with academy status can lead to certain groups, such as faith communities, teaching topics and pushing ideas that would be prevented in a state run school.
Academies have also come under fire for excessive salaries. Leigh Academies Trust was criticised recently after Simon Beamish, the chief executive, received a £40,000 pay rise on top of his £180,000 minimum salary.