Gove's plan to privatise academies and free schools

(141 Posts)
muminlondon Tue 12-Feb-13 23:37:33
rabbitstew Fri 15-Feb-13 17:55:08

My concern is that we never get value for money as taxpayers and paying the company doesn't actually seem to have improved the chances of this happening in the long term.

rabbitstew Fri 15-Feb-13 17:57:09

It's a choice between lazy and self-centred, or lazy, greedy and self-centred. Or just incompetent and stupid, I suppose. I think sometimes we expect more intelligence and competence than the average person is actually capable of contributing... Something always stops things from working the way they should, anyway!

muminlondon Sat 16-Feb-13 08:11:27

It's worse than that - it's a choice politicians and unelected advisers are making for other people's children, not their own. Their own children go to 'properly' independent schools, not Serco schools. They are dealing in children who do not get other options - not faith, grammar or independent.

And the government is not educating my children, teachers are. I don't want them to be paid any less than they are now. Schools should be accountable to communities not corporations. Profit-making undermines voluntary goodwill both on the side of teachers, who put in hours of overtime for preparation and extra curricular activities, and parents who put in hours of time helping with reading, flipping burgers at fairs, helping on school trips.

prh47bridge Sat 16-Feb-13 10:05:06

For what it is worth Cameron sends his children to a state school - St Mary Abbots CofE Primary. He has said he intends to send them to an academy when they reach secondary school age. We will know before the election whether or not he has kept that promise.

I don't know where Gove sends his children but his wife's writings suggest it is a state school. And Serco don't currently run any schools.

rabbitstew Sat 16-Feb-13 11:25:29

I expect he will keep his promise if he can get them into a well performing school with a "nice" catchment, and will break it if he can't. I am also sure that the current academisation programme will do nothing to reduce the divide between the schools which do well and those which don't, or the tendency for state schools to be divided by class, as the more well heeled flock to particular schools (because they can afford to) and move heaven and earth to get their children into them. In fact, I think academisation will make the whole situation even more extreme.

muminlondon Sat 16-Feb-13 20:50:54

Yes Serco has got involved in running an academy due to open:

www.thepressnews.co.uk/NewsDetails.asp?id=6429

Faith schools will not be profit-making. Few converter academies will be profit-making. But sponsored academies - chains - are the one they have their eye on.

prh47bridge Sat 16-Feb-13 23:04:40

This is not a sponsored academy. It is a free school set up by parents unhappy with the closure of their middle school. The middle school is set to close this summer with the free school opening in September. The governors intend to employ Serco to operate the school on their behalf. However, the buck still stops with the governors who will not be appointed by Serco. It will not be the first school in the country to take this approach.

rabbitstew Sat 16-Feb-13 23:14:27

How reassuring that the buck stops with unpaid governors who have full time jobs elsewhere... Lucky governors to get the blame for Serco's mistakes.

prh47bridge Sun 17-Feb-13 00:12:20

In any school the buck always stops with unpaid governors who have full time jobs elsewhere (although the staff governors, of course, have full time jobs at the school). They always carry ultimate responsibility for mistakes regardless of whether they are made by themselves, the staff, the contractors they employ to clean the school or whoever.

In this case it is their choice to employ Serco. No-one is forcing Serco on them. They should face the music if it turns out that appointing Serco was a poor decision.

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 10:26:57

And the punishment for making the wrong choice is what? Governors are always reassured that they will not have any individual responsibility and collectively are not likely to have to do anything other than step down from a role that didn't earn them anything, anyway...
And I've never head OFSTED blame the governors for a school having a poor OFSTED rating - they are responsible along with the HT and all the staff and the Local Authority... and funnily enough, it is not THAT easy for governors to sack a HT for not being quite good enough - that's why LAs get blamed for allowing schools to be useless. We don't hear a national outcry that it's all those useless governors...
So what are you saying, prh47bridge - that the governors in this case DO have more responsibility than the average governor???

prh47bridge Sun 17-Feb-13 14:20:19

Every single Ofsted report includes an assessment of the effectiveness of the governing body. They do not include any rating of the LA. The governors are not responsible along with the HT, staff and LA. They are responsible, period.

The LA does, of course, have powers to intervene in failing schools. Some of them are remarkably reluctant to use those powers. That is why they are criticised.

The basic principle of the schools system in this country is that the governors as a group are accountable for everything that happens at the school. They set the policies and make the big decisions. If you want someone else to be accountable you have to fundamentally change the system and reduce/remove the governors' powers.

In this case the governors are choosing to award a contract to Serco. Are you seriously suggesting that someone else should be held accountable for this decision?

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 15:58:37

Governors have absolutely nothing to do with operational decisions. Funnily enough, however lovely, eg, the behaviour and discipline policy looks, it's up to the HT and staff to make it work and only if it fails desperately badly will governors really find out. Also, however appallingly the HT treats staff and works to make things LOOK good without actually being that fantastic, the governors will not know unless anyone tells them. Good SATs results and statistics do not tell the whole picture of a school and you don't get that unless you are in that school an awful lot more than the average governor.

As for choosing to award a contract to Serco, I hold the Government responsible for allowing schools to be set up in such a way with taxpayers' money. Are you seriously suggesting anyone else should be blamed for allowing organisations like Serco for getting anywhere near state schools? Who is ultimately responsible for the spending of taxpayers' money? School governors or the government?????

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 16:04:16

If you think schools really can be run on policies and big decisions and the day-to-day is not that important, you are barking mad. Governors can make the big decision to bring in Serco, but they can't stop Serco doing the job badly if it doesn't keep its promises and you can't just sack the operator of your school with a click of your fingers - it's not as if you can take over the day-to-day running yourself. Just look how difficult government finds it to award contracts to new private providers when it realises it's made a balls-up... talk about passing the buck to people who don't even get a salary.

prh47bridge Sun 17-Feb-13 16:15:32

Up to 30% of the governors at any school are staff governors who therefore do make operational decisions and know what goes on day to day. But the position is the same as for any organisation. Consider a company. Some of the directors will be members of staff, others will be non-execs who have little contact with the business apart from attending board meetings. Nonetheless they carry the can if it goes wrong.

The government determines how much is spent on education. They are not ultimately responsible for how the governors spend it. If they were they would have to take all the spending decisions, not the governors. You want a central command and control system where the government takes all decisions for every school. We have never run schools like that in this country. Governors have always been free to spend their budget however they wish provided it is for the benefit of the school.

If the governors of this school have been sensible any contract with Serco will include a provision that allows them to kick Serco out immediately if they wish. In that situation they would take over the staff from Serco under TUPE and would run the school themselves in the same way as most other schools. Alternatively they could appoint another contractor to take Serco's place.

prh47bridge Sun 17-Feb-13 16:17:18

Correction - for "if they wish" read "in some circumstances". They would not be able to throw Serco out on a whim but any decent lawyer would put in provisions allowing them to terminate immediately if Serco were not performing.

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 17:13:09

Which means at least 70% of governors at any school are not staff and don't need to have any background in education - and the staff on the governing body do not make operational decisions as governors, anyway, they do that as staff. And if they aren't the HT, they don't have much power over what operational decisions are made, really, anyway. The HT runs the school - the governors, who choose the HT generally get told what the HT wants and then, if they think it is reasonable, tend to agree that, they don't come up with jolly ideas of their own, so the HT makes or breaks the school, ultimately.

There have always been lots of rules on how school money is spent, so rubbish that the government has nothing to do with how governors spend it. Government also sticks its nose in an awful lot into how children are taught - hadn't you noticed??? And it is still sticking its nose in, now. It just doesn't want to be blamed when it all goes wrong. However, if the changes in schools are a complete mess up, it will be voted out.

Governors are not really like directors of a company - they don't share in any profits, they don't get paid anything, they don't get a whopping great severance package when they leave. Are up to 70% of directors of companies non-execs who hardly ever visit the company they make decisions about, unpaid and without any background in that or possibly even any sort of business?

If the governors of the school have been sensible, huge amounts of taxpayers' money have been spent on legal fees and they will have no intention of kicking Serco out and running the school themselves if it goes wrong, because they are not qualified to run schools by themselves, hence paying Serco, and would probably be fed up with the HT of the school if things were that bad, so would have to get rid of the HT, too, who is the one who is supposed to be the expert on how schools are run effectively. A headteacherless and Sercoless school is a school desperately looking round for a temporary Acting HT until someone permanent can be found, or using the deputy of the failing school to run things in the hope they will be better than the HT - meanwhile, no doubt, staff will be haemorrhaging out of the school if they possibly can. One would hope that LAs would have been in a better position to deal with this sort of thing than individual governors would, given that they employed trained, paid staff to help deal with this sort of situation, to whom governors could turn if they had a problem with their HT. Who will these governors now turn to if Serco turns out to be useless???

muminlondon Sun 17-Feb-13 19:09:36

Private companies' involvement in free schools is a murky area, but probably the main backdoor route to profit-making in the absence of transparency around funding agreements. IES (owned by a large US private equity firm) who won the £21 million contact to run IES Breckland on behalf of another parent-led trust have a deal that will run for ten years, but not dependent on exam results. It is estimated they will make 5 million. That's perhaps the longest term ever secured - and difficult to kick them out.

prh47bridge Sun 17-Feb-13 22:56:12

The governing body of any school also, of course, includes parent governors. Some governing bodies are indeed weak and do whatever the head teacher wants, others are pretty strong and will happily overrule the head if they think it appropriate. And it is pretty normal for all the governors to visit their school, both on pre-arranged visits and unannounced.

Yet again you put your lack of knowledge of the state school system on display. There have NOT always been lots of rules on how governors spend money. For the last 15 years that has been only one rule - that they spend the money "for any purposes of the school" (SSFA S50(3)(a)).

It does not cost "huge amounts" in legal fees to vet a contract like the one this school will have with Serco.

Any school that is failing is liable to find itself with an acting head teacher and possibly losing staff. Even in a community school it is up to the governors to deal with the situation. The LA generally will not employ trained, paid staff to deal with this sort of situation for the simple reason it is not their responsibility (and LAs can't afford to have such staff sitting around just in case they are needed). It is up to the governors.

You want to change the entire way our schools are governed by effectively removing the role of the governing body completely and moving to a system of centralised control where the governors simply do as they are told. I don't think you will get much support for that.

muminlondon - Just a minor correction. The article to which you link says that IES currently make profits of £5M a year, not that they will make that much on this contract. Sorry - that is just me being pedantic and doesn't constitute any kind of value judgement.

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 23:27:32

Our school appears to have rules imposed on it on what proportion of its budget it can save each year, how much can be spent on capital projects, until this year money was ringfenced for locality group projects, and obviously the biggest portion of the budget has to go on staff salaries. That isn't my idea of total freedom from rules and constraints. The reality is that with constrained budgets, there is not actually THAT much flexibility or freedom, although of course, you can find ways to squeeze out expensive staff members by making their lives intolerable - that saves money if they don't claim constructive dismissal. And you can get a better deal on IT equipment, internet services, etc, etc, and design your own rolling programme of replacements for expensive equipment, but the governors would not generally do that research themselves, someone employed by the school would do it.
And as for searching for Acting HTs and support - clearly I live in a superior LA, because the LA does help look around for support if your HT is leaving and you have not yet found a replacement - they do after all, have contact with a lot of schools which may be able to offer up staff for their personal development and can ask around for you. They own the school, ultimately, if it is a community school, hence being entitled to object to the governors' choice of headteacher and to step in if there is a problem. And because they own the school, it is the governors' responsibility to inform them if there is a problem, otherwise the governors are failing in their duties. So the LA DO employ area advisers (generally retired headteachers themselves) who DO help with and oversee this sort of thing and with the recruitment process and are entitled to insist on sitting on the selection panel for the next headteacher.

And I have nowhere said I want to remove governors from schools. I am just trying to get you to acknowledge that the role of the governor in schools IS changing, however much you pretend removing LAs from the equation makes no difference to them.

And if it does NOT cost huge amounts of money in legal fees... why has the DfE overspent by £1billion????

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 23:38:11

Then there's the pupil premium. Yet another example of money you can't spend any way you want - you have to be able to show you are spending the money in a particular way.

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 23:42:03

So b*ll*cks to your "for any purposes of the school." Clearly whilst that is the general principle, it is then severely curtailed by reality. You can't just spend the pupil premium on more TAs, for example - the powers that be don't like that.

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 23:51:57

Still, I guess at least pupil premium can technically be spent in any way you want, provided you can show it makes a difference to the children it is supposed to benefit. You don't have to prove they are the only ones it makes a difference to.

rabbitstew Sun 17-Feb-13 23:58:35

It's the showing it makes a difference that is constraining, of course!... it is specifically NOT for "any purposes of the school".

muminlondon Mon 18-Feb-13 00:21:12

The BBC report on the academies overspend suggests the DfE got the budgeting badly wrong - there were extra costs like insurance but also:

'The £1bn includes £350m paid to local authorities for temporary continued funding of places at non-academy schools, effectively double funding places while academies were being set up.'

prh47bridge yes I picked the wrong figure - not £5 million but there is a suggestion of 5% lower down in the article and this would be backed up by the trust's FAQs which suggest 'less than 10%'. This could still mean £1 million over the ten years.

This year they have not even waited to be appointed as a provider but have advertised directly to parents. It's early days as no decision has yet been taken on free schools opening 2014, but their local newspaper advertorial and headline is blatantly misleading as it would lead parents to expect they have already been given the go-ahead (but no suggestion that they would have to be contracted by a charitable trust).

prh47bridge Mon 18-Feb-13 01:08:08

Sigh...

Schools can spend the pupil premium any way they want. There are no constraints on it whatsoever. They do not have to show it makes a difference to the children on free school meals. If they want to spend it on more TAs they can do so. It is their choice. No-one will stop them.

Schools do get some money which must be spent on specific purposes but that is a minute part of their overall budget. DFC (Devolved formula capital) is one example - around £15 per pupil compared with the DSG which is several thousand pounds. The fact remains that the governors are free to spend the bulk of the school's income any way they want. Yes, they face constraints such as the level of staff as does any employer setting budgets. But that doesn't take away from the fact it is their budget and their decision. Indeed, when deciding how many staff to employ they need to consider the long term impact on their budget, not just whether they can afford it this year. The governors of academies face the same constraints in setting their budget.

Of course the governors don't take individual spending decisions. Their role is to set the budget. To take your example, the governors decide how much to budget for a rolling programme of replacements for expensive equipment. It is then up to the staff to determine how best to spend that budget.

None of this is any different regardless of whether we are talking about a community school or an academy.

My apologies - I thought you were implying that the LA would help to manage the school whilst a new head is appointed. Yes the LA appoints someone to offer advice to the selection panel but appointing the head remains the responsibility of the governing body. They can take on other external advisors if they wish. The LA representative advising the selection panel does not have a vote. The LA may NOT refuse to employ the head selected by the governors unless the governors are foolish enough to select someone who doesn't hold the required qualifications or fails the checks (CRB, etc.). The LA may think the selected candidate is thoroughly unsuitable but there is nothing they can do about it. This, of course, is the situation for community schools. VA schools and foundation schools generally get little or no support from the LA when selecting a new head.

The governors role in community schools is much, much larger than you seem to think. To give some idea, the legal guidance for governors from the DfE is 210 pages of A4.

I have acknowledged that the role of governors changes when a school becomes an academy. I have even posted a list of the areas which fall under their responsibility for an academy which are the LA's responsibility for community schools. As I said, there is nothing in that list that will give governors sleepless nights.

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