Parents' fears over Lancaster school academy bid

Concern has been raised over proposals for another Lancaster secondary school to become an academy.

Thursday, 8th November 2018, 2:23 pm
Updated Monday, 12th November 2018, 12:51 pm
Central Lancaster High School

Some parents, education unions and pressure groups say that academies, which are not controlled by the local authority, will ultimately put profit before pupils.

Central Lancaster High School (CLHS) launched a consultation last month into joining the Bay Learning Trust, made up of Ripley St Thomas High School and Carnforth High School.

It is understood that Morecambe High School will also be joining the academy trust.

The consultation closes on November 16, and governors will meet on November 21 to discuss the responses.

A meeting with union representatives is due to take place on November 15.

But some parents are calling for an extension to the consultation, following a school meeting where they said only 16 parents attended.

Lynda Heitzman, a parent of a pupil at CLHS, said the school’s consultation process has been inadequate, and that many parents did not receive proper notice of the proposals.

The Lancaster and Morecambe Anti-Academies Alliance say that academies are businesses and therefore not answerable to communities, they receive less OFSTED inspections, they can employ people to teach without teaching qualifications, and they do not have to follow the National Curriculum.

CLHS headteacher Nicola Hall said the school had consulted widely, and that there were major benefits to be made by collaborating with neighbouring schools at a time when local authority 
resources were scarce.
Lynda Heitzman said: “What I am most concerned about is that we’re more likely to have unqualified teachers and that academies don’t tend to do so well for children with extra support needs. Parents don’t tend to have a voice in academy schools, and I’m afraid that profit will be put above a child’s education.”

Sam Ud-din, Lancaster, Morecambe & District Association Secretary for the National Education Union (NUT Section), said: “Lancaster and Morecambe NEU have significant concerns about the loss of local democratic control if yet another one of our eight local secondary schools becomes an academy.

“They are still paid from our taxes so should be answerable to us, and we should not be putting profit before pupils by privatising education.”

He noted that if CLHS becomes an academy, Our Lady’s Catholic College would be the only local authority controlled school left in Lancaster.

But Mrs Hall has sought to resassure parents that the Bay Learning Trust only employs qualified teachers, and that parent involvement was an important part of school life and she encouraged more of it.

She also said that the school had exactly the same duties when it comes to children with special educational needs or education and healthcare plans.

Bill Deller, Chair of Governors at CLHS, said: “(We) have been considering a range of options for the future of the school to enable it to grow, be sustainable, develop the best teaching practice and ensure our school site and buildings are fit for purpose whilst developing excellent resources for the future to ensure all children can reach their potential. The governors and school leaders at CLHS are keen to ensure that all decisions taken are done so with children at their heart, more so than ever in such challenging operational times.

“Our role at CLHS is to ensure that all children have access to the highest quality education provision that we can offer.”

Mrs Hall added: “Over the last two years we have taken significant steps forward to improve our school and to ensure that all children who choose Central Lancaster High School have access to a curriculum with great breadth, are able to participate in opportunities and experiences that support their well-being and their own development and to ensure that our school goes from strength to strength.

“As with all schools we are operating in the most challenging of times in terms of shrinking resources and a huge reduction in local authority and public sector services which may have supported our endeavours in the past. We are committed to working collaboratively to improve education to ensure that every child in Lancaster has the best opportunities.

Over these two years, alongside the governing body, school leaders have had to make several significant strategic decisions to allow us to ensure the sustainability and healthy future of our school.

“These have all involved consultation with parents and I am committed to ensuring that open dialogue with our community is always a part of school decision making.”

There are 8 Secondary Schools in the area:

LGGS, LRGS and Ripley (now called the Bay Learning Trust, BLT) have been academies for a while.

Carnforth High joined Ripley in the BLT in June; Heysham High (now called the Bay Leadership Academy) joined the Star Academy group then too.

Central Lancaster are currently looking to join BLT and Morecambe High may be forced to do so also.

That would leave Our Ladies CC as the only school not an academy and still in the Maintained sector, supported by Lancashire, for local parents to choose.

Why should this matter to you? Well, what is an academy?

These are still paid for from your taxes on the same per pupil basis as every other comparable school in Lancashire, but they are, in effect, separate businesses that are not answerable to you. An initial grant is given to cover all the costs of conversion (eg new headed paper, legal costs, etc) but all other grants are applied for on the same basis as before, with no guarantees of success.

They submit financial accounts only to Companies House, are in word-only supervised by the Department for Education (it just does not have the same capacity or desire to be as hands-on as the Local Authority). They are less frequently inspected by OFSTED. Supporters say that this is makes for a level playing field. Conversely, Lancashire has the buying power that comes from having 550 schools in its family; multi-academy trusts like BLT must do what it can with its current 2 schools.

However, academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum (but maintained schools are forced to). They do not have to follow national terms and conditions or pay agreements (but all maintained schools must). They do not each have to a Governing Body answerable to parents – only a satellite group of trustees; real power lies with the main Board of Trustees, often with little staff or parent involvement in any key financial decision-making.

Are academies better for children? National data shows irrefutably that maintained schools do better for improving the full range of pupils, and especially lower ability and disadvantaged pupils, than academies – who actually tend to skew their intakes even more against ‘more difficult to teach’ children.

Consultation is not even ‘required’ for forced conversions (eg MCHS) but is still often superficial in ‘voluntary’ conversions (eg Central). As evidence, note that all external staff union representatives were refused access to the Central staff meeting where they were ‘consulted’ about – ie told – what was being proposed and the letter sent to parents for their consultation meeting on 17th October by pupil-post (notoriously unreliable) was dated 5th October but not sent until the 12th – just 5 days before – and had no time on it for when the meeting was to take place. When this was raised by concerned parents that were able to attend, the head refused to reschedule in a very abrupt manner.