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Schools won’t be forced down academies route

Schools won’t be forced down academies route

🕔30.Jul 2012

Birmingham’s cabinet member for Children and Family Services is on a potential collision course with Education Secretary Michael Gove after announcing that no city school will be forced against its wishes to become an academy.

Brigid Jones, who took on the high profile role when Labour regained control of the city council in May, has written to all Birmingham’s head teachers proposing that the local authority’s links with schools should be strengthened rather than weakened.

She is proposing setting up a co-operative trust to which “all schools can choose to belong”.

She makes it clear in her letter that the council will support schools where there is opposition to transferring to academy status.

Coun Jones says no school will be “forced down any route”, and she adds: “Staying with current arrangements will remain an option for all schools.”

In a clear tilt at the Government, Coun Jones warns: “I would add that If Michael Gove is targeting uncooperative councils, I would like to assure him that we intend, through your support, to be very co-operative indeed.”

The letter, sent at the beginning of July, has received remarkably little publicity.

It appears to suggest that the council would be prepared to back staff and parents at schools fighting against conversion to academy status, although it doesn’t comment on the likelihood of such campaigns being successful.

It’s thought that almost half of all Birmingham council-run schools have either moved to become academies or are in the process of doing so. The process, enthusiastically backed by Mr Gove, enables schools to break free from council control to be placed under the leadership of wealthy sponsors – typically businesses or charitable institutions.

Coun Jones’s stance comes amid evidence of Labour unease over the rush towards academy status.

The Birmingham cabinet today deferred a decision on turning George Dixon Foundation School into an academy after being told that the freehold of the site would move from council ownership to private hands. There are also concerns about 125-year land lease deals for other proposed academies.

In her letter, Coun Jones refers to the annual Secondary Head Teacher’s conference which she attended on July 6.

She states: “Our intent is to bring together the wide ranging views and school organisation models, across our Birmingham family of schools, to form an overarching co-operative trust to which all schools can choose to belong.”

She goes on to talk about designing “an alternative offer which adds value and support to each individual school within, without disrupting those on a chosen organisational path or indeed the current networking arrangements”.

The letter vows to build on schools as “excellent community services with social responsibility at the centre of all component parts – a cooperative model going forward, allowing real partnership between the council, the school community of parents, governors, leaders and our most important teachers and learners”.

The letter lists the principles behind Coun Jones’s plans:

  • To create a trust based on cooperative principles.
  • For schools to be the principle partners along with the Local Authority.
  • To potentially harness the expertise of local universities and business communities, such as the Chamber of Commerce or the LEP, as partners.
  • To give it a level of school improvement rigour that would make it an excellent home for struggling schools.
  • To protect staff pay and conditions.

The letter concludes: “In the spirit of co-operation, I am asking to work with you to help build on and strengthen the Birmingham Family of Schools, to form a new strengthened and even more supportive relationship between the Local Authority and Local schools, guided by you, governors, parents and the children and young people who we are all here to serve a partnership with all stakeholders across every level of society to ensure that we are all doing the best that we can do by our young people, ensuring that no child in Birmingham is left behind.

“Our intent is to protect school autonomy and terms and conditions of employment, and to build on and strengthen the great things schools already do together. We want to ensure that the hard work and expertise of all who contribute to the attainment for all are recognised and rewarded.

“Rather than allow a national tide to tear up our supportive structures I propose we grow and own them, creating a vehicle which can be a home both for excellent schools to share and for struggling schools to learn and improve.”

In a speech at the beginning of the year, Mr Gove hinted that he would be tough with councils standing in the way of schools wishing to become academies. “Most local authorities are being cooperative and constructive. They recognise the benefits academies bring.

“Some, however, are being obstructive. They are putting the ideology of central control ahead of the interests of children.  They are more concerned with protecting old ways of working than helping the most disadvantaged children succeed in the future.”

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