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Academies: good or bad idea?

(40 Posts)
sweetjane1 Mon 07-Feb-11 09:31:34

My son's comprehensive is consulting on whether to become an academy. What does everyone think about the pros and cons?

Minx179 Mon 07-Feb-11 10:16:24

They are not consulting you for a start, by the time parents get to hear of it the decisions already been made.

LadyGlencoraPalliser Mon 07-Feb-11 10:32:49

That is not necessarily true, Minx. Some schools are taking the consultation process seriously, some are not. It is true that the governing body has the final decision on whether their school becomes an academy, but sensible governing bodies will want to consider all opinions before making up their minds.
OP, the main difference between becoming an academy and remaining under local authority control is that the school will have much more control of its budget than previously. It also becomes the direct employer of its staff and will be able to buy in from other sources services normally provided by the local authority such as payroll, curriculum support and so on. A well run school will probably find that it is able to use its budget more efficiently than previously. If you feel your school generally does a good job it will probably be a good thing - depending on the level of support that your local authority currently provides, and is likely to be able to provide in the future.
However, the converse is also true, and a school with poor management systems in place is likely to flounder. Central government will then be entitled to intervene, dismiss the governing body and give the running of the school over to a private organisation.
From the point of view of parents and pupils, however, there will be little apparent difference if all goes well. The school will have a bit more freedom to innovate curriculum changes, it will be able to run admissions itself (but not to change the admissions policy) but you shouldn't see a lot of change in the short term.

mummytime Mon 07-Feb-11 10:41:09

My DCs school is also consulting. They definitely haven't made the decision as they do not yet have the real figures for the money. They are not idiots and would only go if the numbers add up.

DandyDan Tue 08-Feb-11 09:52:08

The figures might add up now, but won't necessarily in future as the support funding for becoming an academy is pulled away in years to come.

Also, schools that find they can get loss-leader deals on things they need outside of the LEA provision will very soon find that the companies they source from are actually after making a profit and the privately sourced stuff will soon come at a premium. Why should it be any different in a private market? So all the assistance from an LEA subsidy will be gone.

An academy doesn't have to consult the parents at all - or it "consults" with a figleaf of consideration but actually simply presenting a fait accompli to the parents - that is one example of the lack of accountability that is built into the academy system. Also once an academy they don't elect governors to the governing body, just "select" them - so a clique of like-minded yes-people can quickly build up and not be challenged from outside. There is only a requirement to have two parent governors: does this sound like "more parental say" in how our schools are run?

Once an academy there is no obligation to keep the the curriculum as they have promised - changes in finance and leadership team members can mean curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions can change and be differentiated very quickly with no appeal. The appeals process for parents with concerns becomes something handled at a distance, and less easily accesssible.

Academies have to pay for all their own overheads - legal costs, insurance, human resources, etc. Where will this money come from? They will receive a £25,000 grant to convert their status but the process can cost from £50,000 - £70,000 - where does this money come from?

Within the LEA, schools receive a prescribed amount of support for things like educational psychology, an amount which is safeguarded. Once free of the LEA, a school can choose whether it will pay for more (at private rates) or whether, actually, budgetary demands might mean that they actually source less support. Who will know and hold them to account for this kind of thing? In the LEA, a school will have subsidised schools' music teachers for peripatetic lessons, plus the musical instruments bank to support pupils' learning: how will this continue?

Academies are a terrible thing. The only slight benefit they might bring is a possibility of choosing where to spend the entirety of their budget. Do you trust your school to spend money in hand on needier pupils or to build flashy new teaching suites to impress the parents selecting their secondary school? To not alter the curriculum to attract certain types of parent/pupil and disregard other curriculum options? To dedicate funding to things like 'governor training' which is automatically provided by the LEA and crucial to have in place, for a well-run school? Or money for for staff development? Once free of control, academies can effectively do what they like and with no oversight or guidance, or transparency and no accountability other than to the Secretary of State, who, like, really gives a damn and who would be quite happy to see a private company come in and take over the school if things don't work quite right.

Those schools who are Outstanding who become academies are freed from being OSTED'ed ever again. There is no indication that other academised schools will have OFSTED's at the same intervals as they are currently held to within the LEA.

A great deal of the pushing for academies is not purely on the financial ticket alone - though obviously schools have to balance their budgets and many funding streams have been axed this last year; the pushing can come from leadership teams with agendas against other local schools (jumping in first to get ahead) or with career promotion in mind.

"The short term" was mentioned above but academies are for the long-term: once an academy, there's no way back into the LEA system. People should start thinking about the long-term - about this school or that school once their own children are through and out the other side; how the school will and can change its ethos, its curriculum, its employment terms for teachers of the same current pay grade and pension conditions. It will be able to do what it likes and parents will be powerless to do anything about it. And what're the odds on special needs provision getting the bum deal in all the re-allocation of funds and scraping around for the best private sources of all the things the LEA used to provide "for free"?

prh47bridge Tue 08-Feb-11 12:31:39

I don't have an agenda either for or against academies but just to correct some of DandyDan's points.

Academies receive additional funding equivalent to the amount previously deducted by the LA for certain central services. This is additional to any grant they get to help with the costs of conversion and continues as long as they remain an academy. This funding is designed to cover the cost of services no longer provided by the LA.

LAs can of course offer services to academies and academies are free to use those services if they are happy with the price the LA wants to charge. One might also expect competition to keep prices down. Companies can only set their prices freely when they have a monopoly.

It is up to the academy how it appoints its governors. It is true that an academy only has to have two parent governors (who would be elected, not selected) but there is no maximum. No more than a third of the governors can be academy staff and there can be no more than one representative from the LA. The staff and the LA do not have to be represented on the governing body at all. An academy can therefore have its governing body made up entirely of parent governors if it wants. New academies will not generally have any external sponsors, who have, of course, taken some of the places on the governing body at existing academies. The government is making it clear that the new academies are generally expected to maintain the existing structure of the governing body.

DandyDan is completely wrong about educational psychology. The LA retains the funding for that service which is provided to academies free of charge, as is SEN statementing and assessment, monitoring of SEN provision, pupil referral units, etc.

Music services are one of the elements for which the academy receives additional funding.

DandyDan is also wrong in saying that academies will not be subject to Ofsted inspections. They will not have routine inspections but they will be monitored and an inspection will be triggered if there are signs of deterioration. Members of staff, parents and governors can also request an Ofsted inspection.

DandyDan Tue 08-Feb-11 16:21:42

I was told specifically by the leadership team of our local school that being an academy would mean they weren't restricted to the several days a year educational psychology they get as standard - that they could theoretically budget for more (or indeed less).

Music services were not included in the extra funding - and the extra funding for academies generally will be pulled after a couple of years. The LACSEG money is coming partly from the Dedicated Schools Grant which is retained by the LEA, and pays for centrally arranged provision for individual pupils with particular and high costs needs. So they are going to lose out with this money being diverted to academies.

I said schools that were "outstanding" on their last OFSTED would be set free from being OSTED'ed in the future, not all academies. But the govt is being very cautious about releasing details on how frequently all other academies will be OSTED'ed - they have said they may release details in May.

Just because an academy's governing body "can" and "may" be made up from a good balance of interests does not mean it will. There is no safeguard to ensure there is a balance of views and approaches, as there is at present. Vested self-interest can easily swamp these sorts of closed committees.

Currently, the push for academies is leading many schools to fear for their stake in the locality if they don't take up the offer, and hence the LEA is left with a deficit in its already paltry budget, which will not ensure the survival of things like county music services without that 10% that is sliced off the money to schools for LEA use.

The Dept of Educ has agreed to top-slice all LEA's for money to go towards supporting academies, regardless of how many schools in that authority are considering applying. The extra funding that converting-schools receive does not fulfill the govt's own statement that they are "clear that a school becoming an academy should have neither a financial advantage nor disadvantage.'

LadyGlencoraPalliser Tue 08-Feb-11 17:16:24

Dandy - I think you make some valid points, but it very much depends on the type of service your LA is currently providing. Our county music service went years ago for instance. Since May this year, and particularly since the Spending Review, other services - curriculum advisers for instance - have also been axed so that the services that the LA provide are now minimal and shrinking by the day.
We feel that in many other areas we receive very poor value from money from our LA - support is minimal, capital projects are carried out in a agonisingly expensive, slow and wasteful manner which is frustrating to watch when we know we could organise the work cheaper and more efficiently ourselves.
As far as the governing body composition is concerned, it is certainly important that there is a fair and transparent system for selecting governors, but I believe most governing bodies will ensure that is the case.
I don't think many schools would have chosen to go down the academy road, but we are being pushed down it, and fast, so the advantages of being able to exercise some control over budgets are rapidly coming to outweigh the benefits of staying with an LA which is no longer able to provide the kind of service schools require.

prh47bridge Tue 08-Feb-11 17:39:27

All funding for educational psychology services will continue to go to the the LA after conversion to an academy. Schools do not pay for educational psychology services regardless of whether they are LA-controlled or academies. I wonder if your LA is rationing education psychology services. If that is the case, a school becoming an academy could budget for more even though it is supposed to be the LA's responsibility. However, they could not budget for less as getting the existing level of services would not cost them anything.

Music services ARE included in the extra funding received by academies. See here.

The extra funding is NOT pulled after a couple of years. Existing academies continue to receive this extra funding even though some of them have been in operation for a number of years.

I referred to academies as it is outstanding schools that are being allowed to convert but my comments regarding Ofsted stand. An outstanding school will not receive regular inspections but it will be inspected if there is evidence that standards are falling or if an inspection is requested by parents, governors or members of staff.

I am not sure how "vested self interest" will "swamp" these "closed committees". I repeat that the Department of Education is encouraging academies to retain their existing governing bodies and arrangements for appointing those governors. Parent governors are elected. If there is an LA governor they are appointed by the LA. The Secretary of State can appoint governors in a number of situations, including where there has been a serious breakdown in the way the academy is governed.

You have some good points but some of what you say is incorrect.

consultant Tue 08-Feb-11 19:10:34

Unless we feel that the LEAs are doing a fabulous job, which is unlikely to be done better by the school self-managing its affairs, we have reason to be optimistic I would think.
Which depends critically on the specific LEA and specific school. Impossible to generalise.

Considering the schools in question are doing an outstanding job in educating children already, there is reason to believe that they can do well in their new responsibilities also.

Unless there is financial engineering wizardry going on and some money disappears without reaching the school, which would depend on the small print.

gingeroots Tue 08-Feb-11 20:23:54

At my DC's school ( old style Academy ) the Governing Body has no staff representation and only one parent governor ( although we asked for 2 ).
The Funding Agreement allows the sponsor to heavily dominate the governing body .

DandyDan Wed 09-Feb-11 09:47:58

In being set free, there is a lack of accountability being deliberately built into the running of these schools. Being set free from the pay structure doesn't mean they "will* change it but nothing will stop any changes being made if it is deemed 'necessary' - what does this do to national negotiations for pay? Schools are saying "trust us, we won't change anything": since when exactly was that a good reason to think that they won't actually change anything?

They are anti-democratic: a small group of people, without recourse to any ballot of staff or parents or the wider community, can decide to fast-track a school into academy status, without even informing the local community of its plans. Informing the parents of those pupils currently attending is not good enough. A school is in public ownership of the entire community - pupils, parents past and present and future, and those without a "family" stake - and schools taking these huge decisions are doing so without true consultation as to the interests of all concerned.

If "outstanding" schools are invited to become academies, they certainly did it with LEA support and provision. Out of the LEA, they are out of that network of support (or any support at all).

No accountability, no intermediate oversight or support, removed from democratic control without a ballot, with permissions to alter curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions. It's simply privatisation of education and without a safety net. It is both depressing and desperate.

prh47bridge Wed 09-Feb-11 11:31:26

The "small group of people" is, of course, the governors.

I disagree that there is a lack of accountability being deliberately built in to the running of these schools. That was the case with the original academies but the current government intends to ensure that academies and free schools are accountable to parents. I am not saying they are getting it right but that is their intention.

My personal view is that the stuff about "democratic control" is a red herring. I certainly don't feel I have any kind of democratic control over my local schools. The LA have control but that does not seem to me to be the same thing, especially as I am in one of the many areas where the same party always has control of the LA.

DadAtLarge Wed 09-Feb-11 14:18:59

DandyDan, that's a lot of misinformation and scaremongering. It's very similar to the alarmist letter the unions sent out to all governors on the day after Gove's original announcement. (Boy, they were quick on that one!)

>>The figures might add up now, but won't necessarily in future
You sign a funding contract for (at least) seven years. There is no guaranteed level of funding if you stay with the LA.

>>curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions can change
Sounds like a bloody good thing to me! Let outstanding schools forge ahead by improving the curriculum, recruiting quality staff and paying based on performance.

>>Academies have to pay for all their own overheads
Excellent if they get the money direct. Beats £1 going to the council who squander £0.75 on several layers of admin before using £0.25 on the actual services they provide schools! That includes the money spent on things like governor training.

>>once an academy, there's no way back into the LEA system
Where do you get that from?

>>And what're the odds on special needs provision getting the bum deal
Academies get more money for taking disadvantaged and SEN kids. They can even draw these from outside the catchment (other schools can't). It would be in their "business" interest to invest in special need provision. Are you aware that every academy has to "twin" with a poorly performing school and help improve outcomes?

>>They will receive a £25,000 grant to convert their status but the process can cost from £50,000 - £70,000
It can be done for less than £25K. For those who spend more than that - yes, you have a point, it will come out of their own funds.

What guarantees is the LA giving you? Do you realise that with even a few schools going academy the LA won't be able to maintain services they are currently provided? In fact, some LAs are so in panic by the changing funding roadmap they're considering reducing the school week to four days and starting school at age six among other drastic changes (though the only ones who've made the news are Scottish councils).

My suggestion to readers: It's the governing bodies that haven't looked at the issue in enough depth who seem to be recommending "no change". If your governing body has decided to not switch, ask to see how they came to that conclusion, what documents they examined and ask to speak with the Academy sub-committee (they did set up one of those, didn't they?!)

Silverstreet Wed 09-Feb-11 21:51:55

Totally agree with Lady, PRH, consultant and Dad.

I would rather have the ability to decide which services we buy from LEA and which we would be delighted to buy and even (in some cases) pay more for, to get a proper service that does the job. At the moment schools don't have that choice and waste money on in some cases poor services they have no choice but to buy from the LEA that can then create a nightmare for management of the school. Most schools will be too diplomatic to say this in a consultation meeting, but it is the reality they face. If they were getting a fantastic service from their LEA then they would not be tempted away.

Governors will be a lot more able to be accountable and responsive to local needs if they have these choices. Most are either parents or ex parents. They are very unlikely to want to build shiny new buildings at expense of the curriculum/SEN etc, as 1) there is virtually no capital budget now and approx 90% of budget is spent on staff, so there is simply not enough spare non staff budget to spend on anything, let alone expensive new buildings and 2) they would have huge complaints from all parents and staff if they did try to do this given the negative consequences on all children.

Most people who give up their time to be governors do it out of a desire to put something back and do this well. Not to rule the world. Outstanding schools have already proved that they have a very good track record of managing the school well and those converting are most likely to have a governing body willing and able to take on the extra responsibilities in a balanced way.

ClenchedBottom Wed 09-Feb-11 21:59:30

I have been told that the only Educational Psychology contact available to academies without paying extra is input around Statutory Assessment - ie, the Appendix D for a Statement. Anything else would have to be bought in by the academy.

And sorry, but we are very worried about pupils with SEN as the academies round here are certainly not welcoming them with open arms as a good 'business interest'!

prh47bridge Wed 09-Feb-11 22:25:05

I agree there are legitimate concerns about SEN, although they are sometimes overstated. Regarding educational psychology, however, academies should be receiving exactly the same service as other local schools. If they are not parents should complain to the LA as the LA is receiving funding from the government to provide this service to all schools in its area including academies.

onimolap Wed 09-Feb-11 22:28:52

The thing that worries me is not an immediate concern. It's the change in accountability structure. "Freeing from LEA" control sounds like a good thing. "Putting under central Whitehall control" - which is the necessary concomitant - is fine for now. But it leaves the schools in an exposed position under future Governments, who might have a different view on academies.

pipsqueak Wed 09-Feb-11 22:40:13

do youknow if new academies have sponsers and if so who they are.

DadAtLarge Wed 09-Feb-11 23:13:09

Old academies did have corporate sponsors. That was a bad idea made worse by the financial relaxations Labour made on paid up equity. Capital required to take over a school was reduced from £2M to £0.

Schools converting now don't have sponsors.

finefatmama Sat 12-Feb-11 22:39:23

The pros: they get to buy in more efficient HR, payroll, facilities management and legal services etc from other companies. They are not not tied to the national curriculum and can be flexible with the course offering and the timing of the school day.

The cos: As the employer and independent school, they get sued directly for employment law breaches, health & safety breaches and other legal issues instead of the LEA. If they did it to get more money, the funding formula has just changed to ensure that no academy is financially better off for converting (after taking into account the overheads). Basis for deciding how to reduce the number of governors can be tricky.More time spent in meeting with the DfE, Auditors, Lawyers, Parents, contractors, YPLA, sponsors etc which would have been done by the LEA on behalf of all schools therefore Principal may be less accessible.

not advisable if they plan to use up all the money to buy back services from the LEA. LEA may seek to maximise income and minimise risk (i.e. they sell you a service level agreement but if it goes wrong, you get sued).

cat64 Sun 13-Feb-11 00:04:04

Message withdrawn

DadAtLarge Sun 13-Feb-11 19:24:59

"despite some excellent aruguements as to why they shouldn't become an academy, it seemed the Gvnrs that were there had already decided"

I fully respect that it's up to the governing body to make the decision.

They don't need to ballot staff, parents or pupils. I support that 100%. The governors are volunteers who've given up lots of their time to help the school. They've taken on enormous responsibilities over the years and have guided the school. They've been trusted with this decision and have been told the decision is entirely theirs. They need to consult, but that's not necessarily with parents or staff! The consultation requirement could be met by simply getting a third party opinion - like from another academy!

Frankly, most staff and parents know very little about the topic and if asked to vote are going to vote based on scare stories from the unions or what they overheard in the playground. OK, not all of them... but even if a few voted "blind" it could mean the wrong decision for the school. It's too important an issue to take that kind of chance with.

It's a very complex matter, good governing bodies have set up committees who've spent days and days studying the information available. If they then take a decision backed by their detailed knowledge of the subject and their demonstrated good will towards the school .... parents should live with it and thank the governors for doing a tremendously difficult job (even if they don't agree with the decision).

>>What made me furious, is that they have had special assemblies and "sold" it to the pupils.
If you've made the decision and the changes are going to happen anyway, it's best to get everyone onboard. Who the heck are the kids to make their minds up about an issue they have no chance of understanding? Have they ever chaired a school budget committee? Or appointed a head teacher? Or held to account by OFSTED for the safety implications of a boundary fence that needs repair? It's not a school council matter.

cat64 Mon 14-Feb-11 15:09:48

Message withdrawn

DadAtLarge Mon 14-Feb-11 15:56:29

That someone has been a long time governor doesn't make him the smartest person, just like your boss may not be smarter than you and your MP may be the bluntest knife in the box.

>>Can you not see how partronising that is
Sorry if you feel that way. As I explained, there will be parents who are well informed about the subject, but the vast majority would not have invested the time to study this like a good GB would have done. They would not have even had access to all the budget and other figures. Polling the whole parent body involves giving votes to people who haven't the vaguest idea about this topic. Going academy is a decision that has to be arrived at via informed discussion at the GB, not democracy extended to parents. And there would likely have been governors at your school who voted against the measure.

Governors stuggle with difficult decisions all the time. Trust me, there's always somebody out there among the staff/parents who knows better ;)

>>ds has interviewed satff, including the newly appointed HT at his school, as it happens
With the greatest respect to your DS, he didn't take responsibility for meeting the myriad of regulations involving such job ads, preparing the applicant packs or taking the risk of the GB being sued for some inadvertent violation of a minor employment law. For example, what's wrong with July 11th this year for conducting interviews? Nothing? You may not know but it's Disability Awareness Day. By conducting an interview on a day when disabled candidates "are more likely to be unavailable" you are risking the GB being sued for discrimination (as our LA warns us).

Just the training for governors on how to choose a new head (mandatory) is five hours long! There are days and days worth of work subsequent to that, all done for free by people some of whom charge £xxx per hour in their day jobs.

>>why call a special meeting to give them the impression they are involved.
Your DS was given the oppotunity to interview candidates to give the pupils the impression that they are involved. Did you object on that occasion?

All the good folk among the parents and staff who feel so well disposed towards the school that they want to share their time and expertise should volunteer for the GB ...or the PTA. It's easy to have opinions from outside the ring. It's easy to advocate a particular course when your signature is not on the form.

>>Just because you have served 1 - 6 years in a voluntary capacity, it doesn't mean you are in a position to ride roughshod over the opinions of others
Actually, they are. Legally, it's the governors who have to take this decision - just like all the other management decisions they take for the school.

Should they have been given this power on the Academy question? I don't think so, but that's a different discussion and a challenge that needs to be put to the DfE.

>>whatever the badly thought out, rushed through Parliament law says
I agree with you that it was badly thought out and was rushed through Parliament.

But I don't see why their decision was "morally" wrong. They were entrusted to take a "business" decision, they examined the figures and took the decision. They did their job.

I think they took the right decision.

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