The Salford Star recently received an email from a reader who had just found out that their local school was to be converted to an academy...
"Why have none of the pupils or parents been informed of this plan for the school? ...Why have none of the unions been consulted?...Why have the staff been told to say nothing?"
The school in question is St Augustine's Primary C of E Primary in Pendlebury which, according to latest a Government report, is due to convert to an academy in April 2017; to be taken over by St Simon and Jude Church of England, a multi-academy trust that has three other primary schools in Bolton, Knowsley and Gorton.
"We've not yet been invited to any discussions about the academisation" says Judith Elderkin, Salford Divisional Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) "So far only the teachers have been told that it is going to happen to them.
"In the early days of academies, schools legally had to consult all interested parties, including parents and trade unions, but that requirement was subsequently struck away from the rules by [Tory Education Secretary] Michael Gove" she explains "So there's now some loose words like `schools need to consult those who it thinks might be interested' or something like that. There's no legal requirement to consult parents. It's shocking given that Salford parents' rates and taxes are probably financing the schools in the first place."
In the last few months, Buile Hill Visual Arts College has converted to academy status, taken over by the private Consilium Multi-Academy Trust, although there's nothing on the school's website stating this.
Consilium has one academy, Armthorpe, in Doncaster and, according to its website "plans to expand to a hub of approximately six schools in Yorkshire and Humberside with a similar hub in the North East and the North West".
The Salford Star understands that Consilium is also in preliminary discussions with Ellesmere Park High School (although this school isn't listed on the Government's `academy pipeline') and two other potential schools, possibly Harrop Fold, where it has `partnership' links via Head Teacher, Drew Povey, who is a Consilium consultant, and possibly Walkden High School, although the school declined to comment when asked.
Meanwhile, this month, Irlam and Cadishead College was taken over by the Salford Academy Trust, a partnership between Salford College, Salford University and Salford Council; Chatsworth High School became its own multi-academy trust last November, and Moorside High School applied to the Government to become an academy in June.*
These are on top of schools that have already converted including Salford City Academy (United Learning Trust), Oasis Academy MediaCityUK (Oasis Community Learning), Swinton High School (Swinton High Academy Trust), Dukesgate Primary School, Marlborough Road Primary and Albion High (all Salford Academy Trust), Broadoak Primary, Cassel Fox Primary, Beis Yakov Primary and Swinton High (all converter academies).
Some of these schools were pushed into becoming academies, via unfavourable OFSTED reports, some started the process believing the Government's edict that all schools would become academies by 2020, that's since been totally toned down, and others have chosen to go down the academy path for their own reasons...
"What is quite worrying is that we've got schools running headlong into academisation in Salford, namely Buile, Moorside and Ellesmere, where they haven't had an unfavourable OFSTED designation" says Judith Elderkin. So should parents be worried?
Every few months the National Union of Teachers produces a Privatisation Update listing the abuses of public money of which academy trusts are guilty. Last month, for instance, it published details of the Collective Spirit Trust which has schools in Oldham and Manchester, and paid out £700,000 to a firm owned by its own chief executive. The chair of trustees of another academy chain, Aspirations, was paid more than £3,000 a day for `consultancy services'.
Meanwhile head teachers who push for academisation inevitably see their own salaries mushroom after privatisation. And there's plenty of evidence of that in Salford.
"Multi-academy trusts cream off a percentage of the school budget for central administration of the trust, and that includes all the finance, goods and services that they buy centrally" Judith explains "The percentage taken varies, some do it cheaply, some cream off quite a large amount which finances huge salaries of academy trust directors, executive principals, provision of cars, luxury travel and hotels... the public money is being used, not for the education of pupils in a particular school but to finance a luxury lifestyle for a few people.
"The lack of scrutiny and accountability from central government is absolutely abysmal" she says "The funding agency is unable to police it properly, unlike the local authority where the auditors come in and look at every transaction that you make to see that everything is above board. The incidence of corruption in the system was absolutely minimal until the arrival of the academy system.
"There are trusts and trusts" she adds "I've spoken to people at the first school that Consilium took over and they do not seem at this stage to be into the sorts of abuses you read about nationally."
There's no evidence that academies do any better than local authority run schools – but they do drain local authority budgets.
"For every academy conversion, the cost comes out of the council coffers" Judith explains "Some authorities do seek to levy a charge on converting academies but I don't think Salford has seized that opportunity."
Incredibly, if a school becomes an academy and has a surplus in its accounts it gets to keep the funds – but if it has a deficit, the council is expected to pay it off, which leaves less money for all the other local authority schools. Harrop Fold, for instance, has a huge deficit, the Salford Star understands. If it converts to an academy that could seriously affect every council school in Salford.
All told, academies dish out, what Judith calls a `double whammy' for Salford's local authority schools...
"Budgets are being hit because of academisation and they are also being hit because of austerity cuts to local authorities" she says "The more schools that become academies will be to the detriment of the other schools that remain with the local authority, particularly primaries, which rely on a whole range of services like child protection, school improvement... these services that schools need to access will be affected by the flight of schools from local authority control."
As well as school budgets being hit, there's also the bigger question of accountability of schools. Once converted into academies they are almost a law unto themselves. They can choose to pay into Salford's `facility pot' which provides for trade union advice and support, and can choose whether to sign the TUC recognition agreement.
One question parents should be asking is why big business, or wannabe big business, is so keen on getting a slice of the academy action. Basically, like the NHS, it's about public money seeping into the private sector.
Back in February, Salford UNISON ran an academy question time, where Salford and Eccles MP, Rebecca Long Bailey, described the city's education system as a `Wild West' of "commercialisation and privatisation...run in the interests of profit - and that is not what education is about." (see previous Salford Star article – click here)
Judith Elderkin explains that the process of Salford school academisation is still in its infancy, with multi-academy trusts, so far, only interested in adding secondary schools to their portfolios... "I think what we're going to see is chains trying to hoover up a secondary school with its feeder primaries too" she says.
Calling for parents to "create uproar" over academies, Rebecca Long Bailey added that "people will only realise when it's too late..."
The trouble is that parents can't `create uproar' when they don't know what is going on with their schools, some of which are converting behind closed doors...
The Salford Star contacted St Augustine's, Moorside and Walkden High School for quotes. No response was forthcoming.
*There is also a free school in Worsley trying to get off the ground, while the Salford University Technical College or UTC@MediaCity opened recently
On Saturday 15th October (10:30am-4pm) the North West NUT and Reclaiming Schools are holding a Stand Up For Education Conference: A Day of Training For Parents and Activists at Bridge 5 Mill, 22a Beswick Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 7HR
Speakers include NUT General Secretary Kevin Courtney, Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Education Secretary, Alan Gibbons, author and Siobhan Collingwood, Head Teacher, while workshops will cover subjects like the SATs Campaign, the Teacher Crisis, Academies and Privatisation, Child Mental Health and How Can Education Be Different?
"We need an education system that excites and stimulates children, providing them with the learning they need - and deserve - to fulfil their potential" state the organisers.
See also previous Salford Star article: No Grammar Schools in Salford – click here