Forced acadamisation and Primary School Ark academies. Does anyone know about them?

(72 Posts)
Mez2000 Thu 09-May-13 11:12:41

We have just found out today that our lovely community primary school which has served the community for over 100 years is due to become an Ark Academy as it had a bad one bad Ofsted report in March 2013. As parents we are feeling bemused and worried. The last 3 Ofsteds were were either "good" or "good with outstanding features". Ofsted judged the attainment of our children at reception, year 1 and year 2 as being "above average". Our Maths/English combined level 4 SATs far exceeds the government 60% floor target. Yet the Ofsted inspector deemed things as so bad we have been put in Special Measures. Without any consultion of the parents, we are told we are going to become an Ark academy. Does anyone know anything about Ark Primary schools? We have a lovely school and while there are things that could be better, we don't understand why being an academy is the only way for the future. Any opinions gratefully received.

niminypiminy Thu 09-May-13 11:46:23

My children's school is in the same position. I'm afraid this is the way things are going. The Secretary of State for education is determined to push through academisation, and now that the numbers of secondary schools converting is levelling off the emphasis is on primary schools, far fewer of which want to convert under their own steam.

So the DfE employs academies brokers to coerce fix 'failing' schools up with a sponsor, and coincidentally (or perhaps not, who can say?) the Ofsted framework has been redrawn to be much more punitive. In particular they work to 'linked judgements' by which one 'failing element' is linked to all the others so the school's whole profile can be judged inadequate on the basis of 'failure' in one piece of data or element of provision. Once the school is in what is known as 'a category' (serious weakness or special measures) the DfE broker moves in and starts applying serious pressure on the governors to 'choose a sponsored solution' (everything in inverted commas are their words not mine).

In your situation I would contact the governing body, as they are the ones who make the decision, and ask them what has happened to the consultation they are supposed to do. You could also have a look at the Anti-Academies Alliance, who link campaigns against academisation. You could have a look also at th Save Roke campaign.

However, if the decision has been taken and the governors are behind it, then you have little chance of reversing the decision. What the governors really should be telling parents is why they went down this path, what the school will get out of it, how the special qualities of the school will be safeguarded, what it will mean for children's education.

ofstedconfused Thu 09-May-13 11:55:36

Governors don't get to make a choice either! Please don't blame the governors.

I was a governor in a similar situation and the pressure was unbearable! We, too, loved our community primary school. We recognised its weaknesses and were working hard to improve the school (our results had improved significantly). However, the DfE told us we had to agree to academy status or risk closure. If we had not agreed we would have been 'sacked' and replaced by an Interim Executive Board - the LA told us this! We niavely, and very begrudgingly, agreed (although there was no real choice!). I have had to cope with being yelled at on the playground so many times for just doing our best to keep the school open. The pressure has been so great that I have removed my DC from the school. The sponsors have come in and will probably produce a good school in time. However, we were a good school, but so many (75%) of the staff have left and been replaced with temporary staff, that it's going to take a long time and even then it won't be the community school that I chose to send my DC to.

Sponsors are there to create a 'product' (school) which we either like or we don't. The days of the local community having an impact on their local school are over.

Blame the government NOT the governors!!

niminypiminy Thu 09-May-13 12:04:13

Ofstedandconfused -- didn't mean to sound as if I was blaming the governors -- I'm a governor myself in the same situation. I just meant that there is supposed to be a consultation (although it only happens after the decision has been taken) and OP should ask about that. I totally agree with you about the immense pressure governors are put on at this stage. Those academy brokers are absolutely loathsome -- and apparently get paid £850 a day for forcing schools to become academies. The one is dealing with us had bling all up her arms and the flashiest car I have seen outside an advert.

dinkystinky Thu 09-May-13 12:22:34

OP - are you in London? Our community primary school failed its Ofsted inspection last year (it was previously satisfactory with some good features - suddenly went straight into special measures) - I suspect one reason was that the Yar 6 SATS last year were not good. Lots of changes happened immediately (head, deputy head, head of literacy sacked by governors - mostly because they refused to see there was an issue, consultant headteacher brought in, extra funding from LA to pull up standards, half the teachers left at the end of the year and were replaced with contract staff) to try to correct this but about 4 months later the DfE contacted the governors to say as the school is in special measures, it will be changed into an academy with a sponsor - and there is no choice in the matter or in the sponsor. HMI Inspectors come in to the school to inspect it every few months with no notice at all - we get a text message in the morning of the inspection from the school asking us to ensure all our kids are in school on time.

The governors (who have had a terrible time of it through out this whole process) tried to suggest sponsors that would be acceptable to them - they suggested a local secondary school which l

niminypiminy Thu 09-May-13 12:25:33

Actually I've just re-read the OP and saw the school is in special measures -- this means they do not get a choice about whether to become a sponsored academy or not, it is is simply forced on them. So disregard what I said about the governors, they will have had no say in the matter.

ofstedconfused Thu 09-May-13 12:34:00

There is still supposed to be something of a consultation, although it still won't make any difference. In our case it was to be conducted by the sponsor (we realistically had no say in the choice of sponsor). It consisted of letting people know that they could fill in a questionnaire on the website, over the summer holidays. However, the decision had already been taken.

I have witnessed so much dishonesty and underhandedness in this whole process - from the DfE, the sponsor and from the LA! It's shocking. It makes me feel sick to think back over it. Politics and money are very definitely the driving factor, the key thing that gets forgotten is the impact on children. Apparently, according to a key figure in our transition, having a number of different teachers over the year, 4 headteachers in a year and a generally low morale and malaise amongst the staff (no clubs, no additional activities etc.) is having no damaging impact on the children! Bull! That's why my DC are no longer there.

dinkystinky Thu 09-May-13 13:17:40

Sorry my post got cut off half way! So, suggested sponsor from governors rejected - DfE gave name of proposed sponsor to governors (small chain - 3 schools in it) and told them thats who to go with. Sponsor sand governors met - and patents met sponsor too - who gave all sorts of assurances about school keeping name and uniform, only thing changing as far as the children were concerned is a principal instead of head teacher etc. All went swimmingly - sponsor did 6 months of did on school, did staff training initiatives with staff to bring standards up and stretch the more able etc, a few more parent/staff/governor/sponsor meetings then - the school and sponsor fell out over proposed appointment of new head and sponsor withdrew their sponsorship offer. So after a year and a bit of uncertainty we have no further clarity at all on what is going on! I strongly suspect the DfE will mark the school as a problem one and impose a large chain sponsor like ARK (which is taking over another local school). It will still be the community school - its just the community wont get any say at all in what goes on at the school.

Mez2000 Thu 09-May-13 13:26:28

Wow- from what everyone is saying, its happening all round. As parents we were so shocked to find we were in special measures after the ofsted report. Does anyone know if this the only category where the government can academise the school automatically?

dinkystinky Thu 09-May-13 13:37:14

Yes, special measures is the only one where you can be forced into being an academy - and its bloody difficult to get HMI inspectors to reclassify you as anything else once you have been given that classification as our school has found. Ds1 didn't learn anything much in reception (but was happy), learnt to read and write in year one (said all the work ws boring and hard work) and only now in year 2 is learning properly (he has come up 3 levels across the board this year) - so there were failings before. However from what I can see the staff who remain are committed and dedicated and working bloody hard in a school with a huge number of children with free school meals/English as a second language and where there is a huge turnover of pupils in year 5 and 6 (as much as 45 percent) as more affluent families move children from the school to early starts at independent secondaries.

niminypiminy Thu 09-May-13 13:39:39

One of the things that is so galling is that Ofsted now refuse to make any kind of allowance for factors such as high pupil mobility -- they say, well, that's your school, get on with it-- as if the playing field was level with schools in leafy lane.

allchildrenreading Thu 09-May-13 13:48:23

If you are going to be 'academised', ARK is about the best there is. The point about schools that are little better than 'satisfactory' is that struggling children don't have a chance - that's their life chances down the plug hole.

But it does look as if the manipulation is very heavy-handed.

niminypiminy Thu 09-May-13 14:00:39

Um, well, satisfactory means -- satisfactory, good enough. Of course, the government has decided that it doesn't believe in satisfactory, and all such schools are now branded 'requiring improvement' -- not just from when the framework was changed, but retrospectively.

I just do not believe that a satisfactory school sends children's life chances down the plug hole. That's the government line. The last person I heard say that was the academy broker who came to try and force us down the academy route.

The truth is that education is only one factor in children's life chances: where they are born, who their parents are, whether they live in an unhealthy environment, whether there are any jobs for them to do once they leave school. It's all very well to talk about the life chances of struggling children when all that awaits so many after they leave school is part-time, poorly paid, insecure service sector jobs.

Don't get me wrong. Education can change people's lives, I know that as an education professional. But it can't work miracles, and schools can't change the world.

In any case, the Ofsted framework is now so skewed and punitive that I am very dubious as to whether its judgements should carry any authority at all -- they do, of course, because the DfE is determined to use the full weight of its power to back them up, going over the heads of the wishes of parents, the views of professionals and the democratically expressed wishes of the community to do so. <rant over>

Mez2000 Thu 09-May-13 14:32:16

Thanks for all your great replies. I do understand for schools that have been struggling for a long period of time, that academisation may be the best option. Maybe our school is a bit different. Its full of happy, friendly children who according to ofsted, achieve "above average" in reception, year 1 and year 2. And our combined maths/english grade 4 SATs last year were well above their 60% floor level target. I just don't understand how one ofsted inspection can trigger such huge changes to a schools organisation and people's lives. Our old head already "moved on" a week or so after the ofsted inspection. All our school really needs is the appointment of a dynamic head who can mentor and organise the current great teachers and help them to teach and achieve to their full potential. I don't think we need to be an academy to do that.

ofstedconfused Thu 09-May-13 14:50:56

Our school was full of happy, friendly children too. English and Maths combined score was 86% last year, with good progress figures too. If your school is being targetted for academisation then they've 'got you'! Sounds like instability (ie the need for a new head) in senior management would be the area of concern. Don't underestimate how incredibly difficult it is to appoint a good headteacher in the current climate - a part of our problem was that ours wasn't deemed 'good enough'. I wanted to think that we were different too, when I looked at all the other stories, but 18 months on, I have to say we weren't.

Sorry.

Pyrrah Thu 09-May-13 14:55:01

I know a lot of people involved in ARK - they've been doing a huge amount with setting up schools in the developing world for many years (my husband was involved for a while) before they became involved in the UK and they are very well organised and know what they are doing. The people at the top are involved for philanthropic reasons and not because they are after anything themselves - more a case of wanting to see all children get a good education.

I would be 100% happy sending my DD to an ARK academy.

Round here, a lot of the Outstanding primaries are becoming academies as there are many potential benefits - the school DD has a place at became one a couple of years ago, and the school we are on the waiting-list for and where DH has been a governor for over a decade is strongly thinking about it.

tiggytape Thu 09-May-13 14:59:04

so the school's whole profile can be judged inadequate on the basis of 'failure' in one piece of data or element of provision.

That is not strictly true. The categories which can lead to an overall inadequate rating are inadequacy in:

Achievement of pupils, Quality of teaching, Behaviour and safety of pupils and/or Leadership and management

A school will be judged inadequate if it fails in one or more of those categories. Those are pretty vital areas and as such, it is reasonable to say that a school with inadequate teaching for example cannot be judged as anything other than inadequate overall because this is such a crucial failing.

FadedSapphire Thu 09-May-13 15:39:29

Achievement of pupils can be affected by so many things that do not say reflect bad teaching- eg, high pupil mobility, children entering school at a low level of ability, parental aspiration and cultural background.
I hope those aspects are taken into consideration by ofsted; thoroughly depressing if not.

niminypiminy Thu 09-May-13 16:03:22

Except, Tiggytape, that the judgements are linked. Even if they see nothing but good teaching, or (as with us) 80% of the teaching is good, if attainment is not 'good' then teaching cannot be good. Similarly, even if they see fantastic behaviour and good attention by children in class, that behaviour cannot be classed as good because attainment is inadequate. It's a framework that has been set up to make schools fail, not to describe and help to remedy areas where schools have difficulty. The recent revision of the Ofsted framework cannot be divorced from the academisation agenda.

sanam2010 Fri 10-May-13 16:53:29

You should be happy and grateful! At least the two ARK academies in London are excellent and extremely popular. I'd love to send my children there.

muminlondon Fri 10-May-13 19:08:02

That's really bad news about the Ofsted inspection and special measures Mez2000 - very sorry. I hate this government's policy on forced academisation because it's really undemocratic. And there are people making a lot of money from this - academy brokers earning £250,000 per year, according to the Telegraph.

That said, Ark is probably the best of the academy chains - maybe the only one left without some scandal or warning attached. There's an article in the TES of 26 April that says E-ACT (31 academies) has been given an official warning for financial mismanagement and AET (65 academies) has been barred from taking on any new schools (it has too many in, or just out of, special measures). And Harris has been accused of bullying tactics and sham consultations by parents opposed to forced takeover (e.g. Downhills, and Roke in Croydon).

So that leaves Ark, which is associated with some very successful schools. According to the FT's Chris Cook it is the best of the chains (see blogs.ft.com/ftdata/2013/01/07/academy-performanc).

niminypiminy Fri 10-May-13 19:23:33

Agree that while ARK may be well be the best of the chains, it's partly the principle of chains in education that is problematic. Are schools like coffee shops? I mean, I like Costa, and think it's the best of the coffee chains, but I'd hate to see them take over the world. I also don't want to see a situation where schools for the majority are run by chains, and are homogenised into coffee shop-like brand identity. Also, while there may be excellent chain schools, the point remains that academy schools are not locally accountable through the democratic process, and have far less community involvement through their governing body than LEA schools do. Let's not forget that in a chain of academies, the executive takes the most important decisions, including financial ones -- not the school head and governing body.

muminlondon Fri 10-May-13 19:39:42

Agree with that post niminypiminy and I also worry

(1) that there are fewer primaries that are sponsored academies so no evidence yet that it will help (at least it could be said there as always been more diversity for secondary schools),
(2) that as many LAs have allowed or encouraged their secondaries to convert, the services they continue to provide for primaries (SEN support, legal, IT, etc.) will get eroded if primaries also start getting picked off by the chains - it reduces LAs' budgets and economy of scale in supporting their other schools, and
(3) volunteer support for primaries is much more essential for reading, school trips, maths, etc. but parents and teachers may be more reluctant to give up free time when chain bosses are being paid £200,000. I don't know what other parents' experience is of this.

Startail Fri 10-May-13 19:53:12

Our secondary was already an academy, but Ofsted still stuck it in SM for no good reason.

There is talk of us too becoming a sponsored academy.

There is something very sinister going on sad angry

niminypiminy Fri 10-May-13 20:33:05

Yes, MuminLondon I absolutely agree that all those things are extremely worrying. Primary schools are being forced into a vast untested experiment. And that's another worrying thing -- under current legislation academisation is irreversible (and the sponsor gets a lease on your buildings and grounds for 125 years -- you don't have to be paranoid to find that a bit scary. It only takes a future change in the law for sponsor to be able to sell off playgrounds for housing.)

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