Tory council off message
Strange happenings on the Academies front. Bromley Council (Tory, remember) initially said they wanted a local school, Kelsey Park Sports College, to become an Academy – a decision that seemed to be welcomed at the time by local parents .
However the man in charge of schools in Bromley, Cllr Ernest Noad , now says that he will only accept an Academies Sponsor that will agree to manage the school in a 50/50 partnership deal with him and his colleagues at the Council. The idea behind Academies is that they should be autonomous, that is free from local authority control, although the former Education Secretary Ed Balls was all for more Academy partnership arrangements between local authorities and sponsors. Andy Burnham ,the shadow Education Secretary, when it comes to Academies, is more Balls than Adonis.
The Bromley approach, however, seems to rule out the Harris Federation who, on the basis of their generally sound track record in neighbouring boroughs, are the preferred choice of many local parents. Though Harris would like to sponsor Kelsey as an Academy they don’t think they can improve it if every decision needs to be taken by committee with a Council which for years seems to have been failing Kelsey Park. Kelsey Park has the appearance of a sink school confirmed it seems by a governor of Kelsey who defended the school’s failings by arguing that ‘Somebody has to teach those children that the remaining schools do not want to teach, so the borough and the other schools need Kelsey.’ Comparing results at Kelsey though with Harris schools is not that easy given that Harris Academies teach a number of vocational qualifications regarded by some parents as soft options , while Kelsey teaches GCSEs.
The Anti-Academies alliance is much animated by the developing proceedings and relishes the prospect of the Harris bid failing and the school remaining firmly under local authority control. Meanwhile 1,000 parents have signed a petition demanding that Kelsey becomes a proper Academy, and the Council has stepped one pace back and launched a consultation.
What does this tell us? Apart from the fact that there will be long standing local issues at work, of which we know not a lot, it also ,perhaps , tells us something we probably knew already, that some local councils, including significantly some Tory and Lib Dem controlled ones, have some reservations about the Academies and the free schools initiative. Not all Tory councillors are willing to sing from the same sheet or toe the party HQ line as the leader of Kent Council showed during the General Election, expressing his reservations about free schools. Some Councillors object for ideological reasons in that they see it as a form of privatisation. Others don’t want to see their schools taken out of their control, either because it diminishes their power base, (producer interests) while reducing their funding too, but also because of a genuine belief that if schools are removed from their control and they have less funds, many children will suffer as support services are eroded and many will fall though the safety net, currently provided by the council. They also worry that new schools will cherry pick pupils, leading to (more) sink schools
The Coalition Government, on the other hand , believes that the new Academies Act ensures that there will be no selection, that new schools and Academies will be inclusive and that the interests of the most disadvantaged will be protected, built into Academy funding agreements . They have also initiated a review of SEN policy and a pupil premium, targeting the most disadvantaged, is in the wings. Ministers also stress that this is permissive. There is no obligation for any school to become an Academy nor for anyone to set up a free school. So critics views are, in its view, little more than scaremongering. What is clear though is that the Coalition has a challenge on its hands with some of its local politicians , who are not as yet fully on board feeling that local councils are under attack, at a time , moreover,when the national leadership preaches the merits of localism.