Education Jun 6 2010

Governors should consult parents about changing their schools

Governors are in the front line of the new education plans. Even though Secretary of State Michael Gove only sent the letter inviting schools to become academies to head teachers, it is school governors who must pass a resolution that allows Gove to ‘order’ the local authority to cease funding their school so an academy can spring up in its place.

Some governors have already expressed anger about the proposals, which would give some schools considerable freedoms that their neighbours don’t have, and attacked the speed with which outstanding schools can be fast tracked out of their local authority ‘family’, without any consultation with parents.

The National Governors Association has urged governing bodies to take time over any decision and has prepared a helpful list of Q and A s on its website. It also advises all governing bodies to offer a parental consultation

A crucial point that any governing body considering academy status should spell out to parents is how the funding mechanism for the new school would work if its money isn’t to come via the local authority as is the currently the case with maintained schools.

Until now academies have been governed by detailed contracts between sponsors and the Secretary of State rather than the vast body of law that covers maintained schools, from which academies are exempt.

These documents placed requirements on academies to comply in areas like the Admissions Code of Practice, local behaviour partnerships and legislation protecting pupils with special educational needs.

But Clauses 1 and 2 of the Academies Bill suggest that there may be a simpler funding mechanism on the way which could give less protection to these vulnerable groups. Local authorities have no role in keeping an eye on the admissions, and exclusions, of pupils in academies, a responsibility which would rest with central government, which could also cut off funding with little notice.

Because there is no requirement for a sponsor in the new model Tory academy, governors would also have to set up a charitable trust to take on responsibility for this contract with central government. The trustees would then bear all liability and also be free to appoint a new governing body without any obligation to include a balanced membership of staff, parents and other members of the community.

Parents should have a chance to understand what being an academy really means, and how much money it would actually bring with it – probably less than some of the wild estimates being bandied around at the moment. Expect to see amendments calling for a statutory period of consultation as the Bill makes its way through Parliament.

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