Academies and Free Schools cause chaos in Coventry – local Academy to close
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We are pleased to carry the article below by Jane Nellist, joint secretary of Coventry National Union of Teachers (NUT) and a member of the national executive of the NUT. She writes in a personal capacity.
Coventry is witnessing the catastrophic consequences of the government’s programme of Academies and Free Schools. This comes at a time when the government is planning for the academisation of all schools!
The day before Year 6 children learnt which secondary school they were to be allocated, it was announced that, in effect, Woodlands Academy would be closing. The ‘consultation’ paper sent to all parents is for the neighbouring Tile Hill Wood Academy, a girl’s school, to be renamed and designated a co-ed Academy, opening in September 2017, taking the boys from Woodlands in stages, starting with the Y7 in September.
There has been a total destabilisation of schools in the West area of the city with the opening of a Free School, Finham 2 by one of the more successful Academies which is now over-subscribed. Even the DfE’s own impact assessment identified a detrimental impact on all three secondary schools in the area, all of which are Academies.
The opening of a girls Muslim Free School in the city and a Sikh Free School has also contributed to the fall in numbers across the city for other schools.
The introduction of competition and surplus places is not the way to raise standards. Only a democratically accountable and planned education system can do this. Strong, well-resourced Local Authorities, working with schools, sharing good practice and supporting each other is a model that we know works.
It’s ironic that we are facing these problems in Coventry for two reasons. Firstly, Woodlands School was built in 1954 and was one of the original Comprehensive schools built in this country. A new future for education after the second world war, now a victim of the Tory vision of education!
The second reason is that in 2011, Coventry NUT led a fight, including strike action, to save both Woodlands and Tile Hill from being turned into Academies.
We warned of the problems that would come if they went ahead. Governors claimed they would get new school buildings and that there would be more funding- neither of which has materialised! Instead, Woodlands Governors have failed miserably, running up huge debts and the school is in ‘Requires Improvement’. The school buildings are shoddy and have not benefitted from re-building as they were promised under the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme which was shelved by this government.
We are now left with a school closure, our members at risk of losing jobs, pupils who are angry about the way they are being treated and communities feeling let down. In a few years’ time, forecasts show we will be desperate for school places!
You may ask where the DfE is in all of this. They appear to have abdicated their responsibility completely. The Regional Schools Commissioner, Pank Patel, has hardly instilled any confidence in the process, and is now leaving his role to go back to headship in an Academy! Unions have written to ask for an urgent meeting but have heard nothing. When they showed up at consultation meetings they failed to answer any questions at all.
We cannot even get simple written answers to questions about redundancy payments for staff.
As the consultation ran over the local elections, both Tories and Labour squabbled over who was to blame. Interestingly, at least one councillor was on the governing body and part of the finance committee– why did they not see the financial crisis coming? The consequences of this delayed any decisions, a re-run of the consultation which has meant that staff, parents and most importantly, pupils were all left in limbo.
As we break up for half term, the final decision has been made, the school will close in September 2017. Tile Hill Wood Academy will be re-named and will become co-ed.
For Woodlands to have been saved it needed a huge investment in resources to pay off the debt and to enhance the school’s buildings. More importantly, it needed more pupils.
What has been experienced in Coventry isn’t progress- it’s anarchy and it serves no-one well. Parents are understandably very angry and concerned for their child’s education.
As teachers, we want good local schools that serve our communities. We have to continue the battle to fight this crazy system and build for a return to the vision of a truly Comprehensive education based on co-operation rather than competition and democratic accountability rather than the anarchy of the market place.
The big question is-will it happen again? Well of course it will- we are entering into the world of the market for our schools. That’s why we have to fight against academisation. We warned about the risks back in 2008 when the first Academy, Grace Academy, replaced Woodway School. The evidence is clear- academisation does not produce better schools.
We shall continue to support our members and the communities that our schools serve. The fight against the government’s plans for more acdademisation needs to be stepped up. Lessons need to be learned and we need to galvanise our resolve. Our education system is not for sale and it’s not for giving away!