Education May 27 2010

So much for parent power…

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Amid all the furore over academies and free schools, one important fact has been overlooked. There is no role for, or consultation with, parents in the new fast track process to opt schools out of their local authority.

Remember it is only ten days since David Cameron re-launched his ‘big society’  in the Downing Street garden in order to ‘enable people and empower communities’.

As he explained: ‘We know instinctively that the state is often too inhuman, monolithic and clumsy to tackle our deepest social problems. … the best ideas come from the ground up, not the top down… when you give people and communities more power over their lives, more power to come together and work together to make life better – great things happen.”

However the involvement of people and communities isn’t much in evidence in the new fast track Academies Bill which was laid before the House of Lords yesterday. Heads and governors alone will be able to decide whether their school should ‘convert’ in a simple three month process that requires no consultation with staff, parents or the wider community.

The government will then ‘order’ the local authority to stop funding the existing school so it can reopen as an academy without any of the previous requirement to discontinue the existing school – a process which involved lengthy consultation.

If it weren’t so scary, this high speed juggernaut that is about to collide with the publicly accountable state education system (and disenfranchise thousands of parents on its way) would be almost comical.

What is the rush? Is Michael Gove worried he may not be in power in September, scared that Liberal Democrat councillors and activists might finally notice that the coalition is rapidly smashing up their carefully crafted education policy or anxious that parents might rise up and object?

Either way the ramifications of so many schools becoming independent are immense and local parents are surely entitled to have a say and ask some of the many, as yet unanswered, questions. For instance, money will be promised as a bribe to opt out but where does it come from and which other schools lose out as a result?

Then, who ensures that admissions, special needs and the education of vulnerable children is managed fairly and properly resourced. Local authorities, which don’t actually run schools at the moment, still have important responsibilities in this area. If thousand more schools become own admissions authorities who is going to ensure the system works fairly, particularly since LA boundaries will have no meaning?

The ‘model funding agreement’ left by Labour, attempted to bind academies into the local authority family. If that is torn up by Gove, chaos could ensue – something that local communities are surely entitled to debate.

Finally how will parents be represented on governing bodies? At the moment the academies are only required to have one parent governor. Is this the sort of empowerment Prime Minister Dave has in mind?

The truth is that this Bill heralds a massive act of centralisation. Whitehall ordering the closure of schools is only the start, the next step is that Mr Gove and his civil servants will be managing thousands of funding agreements with individual schools at the expense of local accountability.

The latest poll on public reaction to the Queen’s Speech suggests the public are already cynical. The fast track for academy status received only a 14 per cent approval rating, support for parents starting free schools only 2 per cent.

If you’re interested in proper consultation, or opposing these plans in your area, do get in touch at

4 Responses to “So much for parent power…”

  1. CLTupling says:

    Of course, isn’t this rhetoric about free schools, parent power and academies, freeing schools from LEA control, and the ‘big society’ a cover for justifiying the removal of state involvement from education, by the back door, so to speak? Isn’t rolling back the state the ideology of the conservative party? In general, there’s an absence in the press of any real critical analysis of this new government’s polcies, just as the good news of the positive impact of the Labour government’s policies was buried.

  2. Politique says:

    The Local Authorities involved in some early Academy schemes have self promoted this experiment on inequality. During the process of consultation the agenda is shaped and organised by key players whose interests in the game are prioritised over the real needs and interests of the parent and child. Manufacturing the consent of a few attendees at meetings (which are poorly advertised)they believe, gives them justification and evidence to suggest that all parents are happy. Absolute nonsense. What this country needs right now is a pompous twit expanding the divide and creating more winners and losers. It would of course be very interesting to hear the views of the Oxbridge connection involved in the Labour Leadership campaign. I would advise every union voter, labour supporter and labour member to closely observe and hold them to account on education policy. Considering the candidates, whoever champions the comprehensive ideal will win the day. Why the restriction in writing Fiona???

  3. jimchee says:

    Gove got a lot of publicity for his open letter to head teachers offering the chance to become academies. What he did not publicise was his letter to Heads of Childrens Services and the Local Govt Assoc which was a lot less gung-ho and dogmatic.
    Gove ignores the views of Local Authorities which is not a simple hostility to labour Councils; if anything it is the Education and Childrens Service heads in Tory Councils who oppose and annoy him more.

    Also, why is his Education Bill starting in the House of Lords, and not the Commons??

  4. Politique says:

    Jimchee, thats an easy one. There are a number of Conservative Lords and businessmen sat on the Directors of large chains of Academies. I believe one such candidate is screaming Lord Bates. Now there\’s an interesting character. I believe he associates with Tony Blair and his quango nowadays.

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