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Special report: Community vows to take action against Hove Park School academy plans
A school community has voted unanimously against plans to become an academy and has vowed to carry out direct action to get their voices heard.
More than 150 people crammed into a meeting at Bishop Hannington Church in Nevill Avenue, Hove, on Tuesday night, organised by a group of parents opposing Hove Park School becoming an academy.
They accused head teacher Derek Trimmer of orchestrating a Putin-style consultation and “bully-boy tactics” and said the plans were a “throwback to Victorian times”.
Dozens of parents said they would be prepared to take their children out of school if the proposals went ahead and 90% of the room said they would be prepared to take part in direct action ranging from lobbying the school to organising non-uniform days.
Speakers included parents, students and academy experts but the head teacher and his chair of governors did not attend despite being invited to sit on the panel.
When it was announced Mr Trimmer was not attending, a large number of people in the crowd showed their disapproval by booing.
A school spokeswoman told The Argus Mr Trimmer felt it was wrong to address a small group or the media before consulting the parents as a whole first.
Councillor Sue Shanks, chairwoman of the Brighton and Hove City Council’s children and young people committee, and Conservative councillor Andrew Wealls sat on the panel and fielded questions during the heated meeting, which lasted more than an hour and a half.
One parent, Natasha Steel, said: “I’m furious that Derek Trimmer has proposed these plans.
“They say they want to develop our children, but what they really mean is business.
“A business aims to raise performances, and that’s not judged by grades, it’s judged by money.
“They would have no local accountability and it just proves they don’t give a hoot about the future of the students.
“The academy system is a throwback to Victorian times – and it’s not happening here.
“I’m told that more than 90% of the teachers are against the plans, but this won’t stop the bully-boy tactics of Derek Trimmer.
“This is my child’s education, and in my daughter Bridget’s words – this is Hove Park, not Gove Park.”
Almost everyone in the room raised their hand when asked if they disagreed with Hove Park School becoming an academy.
In response to the meeting, Mr Trimmer said: “Governors voted to begin a process of an informed consultation over the status of the school.
“Separate consultation meetings for each year group will be held with all parents and carers, including those joining the school in September 2014, and are scheduled to commence in May.”
The parents’ pressure group Hands Off Hove Park, who organised the meeting, are set to meet today to discuss their course of direct action.
A spokeswoman told The Argus: “The only way we are going to be heard is by making some noise.
“With it being exam season and so many of our students sitting GCSEs and A-levels, we’re putting them first.
“So it’s unlikely we’ll be taking them out of school in the immediate future, but we won’t rule anything out.
“It’s more likely to be something we look at later in the summer or in the new term.”
Stand-up comedian Mark Steel, who has two step-daughters at Hove Park, said: “You would have thought that during this socalled consultation there would be at least some sort of actual consultation.
“They have just made a decision and sent out a brochure.
“That’s the level of consultation I’d expect Vladimir Putin to run.
“The board are rattled and they would not have believed the level of opposition that has been generated – we cannot let them have their own way.”
According to the school, eight separate meetings with unions, the community and parents have been scheduled.
Chair of governors Mike Nicholls said: “As a good school, with a very strong track record of school improvement we are just entering a process of consultation over the possibility of converting to academy status.
“We have already scheduled separate consultation meetings for parents and carers for each and every year group, including those who will be joining us in September.
“We have also arranged separate meetings for unions and community stakeholders where there will be opportunity to listen and respond to a range of views.”
Sixth formstudent Daisy Morris spoke on behalf of her peers.
She said: “I love the sense of community we have at Hove Park.
“It shows how much people care that so many people have shown up tonight.
“The improvements that have been made at the school have been absolutely outstanding and I have no doubt it will continue.
“If we’re doing so well, why do we need to change?
“There’s no evidence to support a change for the better when schools convert to academies, only that you’re four times more likely to be excluded.
“With so many teachers opposing the plans, what sort of classroom environment is that going to give us?
“You’re going to have teachers doing a job they don’t want to do any more and the school could even replace them with non-qualified teachers – that is not going to help me get my A-levels.
“I would urge people to keep up the pressure in order to get our voices heard.”
Nick Childs, regional officer for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), challenged Coun Shanks to conduct a parents and staff ballot to gauge the level of support and the Green councillor agreed.
Coun Shanks supported the view of many of the parents and said she would carry out a ballot on behalf of the parents and staff.
She said: “I am saying to council officers we don’t want to encourage this and we don’t want the academy plans to go through.
“There was quite a bit of money coming in under the last government for schools converting to academies, but that money just doesn’t exist any more.”
But Coun Wealls stood up for the proposal, citing the successes of Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA) and Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) as templates as to how academy status can improve schools.
He said: “I am pleased that we’re having this debate.
“This is not a black and white issue and I’m really interested to hear everybody’s views.
“We only have to look at PACA and BACA to see that academies can work in the city.
“When you look at figures as which schools have added value to their students – PACA and BACA are the best in the city and you can just see what tremendous strides they’ve made.” I t is feared that Hove Park’s conversion to academy status would lead to a citywide epidemic of schools looking to wriggle free from local authority control.
Arran Evans, who was involved in the successful campaign against Varndean School becoming an academy, stressed the importance for the Hove Park School community to be active in their protests.
He urged them to do as they did back in 2011 at Varndean School, which was to take direct action by lobbying outside the school.
The threat of action was backed too by Paul Shellard of the NUT, who said there was no plausible reason for Hove Park to become an academy.
He said: “There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that academies are doing any better than state schools, and in fact, in some cases they are doing worse.
“These academies can employ untrained teachers.
“You wouldn’t have untrained doctors, lawyers or air traffic control workers, so why on earth is this different when it comes to children’s education?
“These are just huge businesses looking to build an empire and schools will be seen as easy pickings for these companies – it’s privatisation.
“The union, who represent the majority of Hove Park teachers, have asked whether a staff or parent ballot will be taken, but we were told by the school ‘the Department for Education say we don’t have to’.
“We have to vote for our councillors, if the council want to raise council tax it has to go to a vote – there has to be the same level of consultation here.”
Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academy Alliance was also on the panel and spoke passionately about how parents should react.
WHAT IS AN ACADEMY?
Academies are independent state-funded schools which receive their funding directly from central Government, rather than through a local authority.
However, they have more freedom than other state schools with regards to their finances, curriculum, length of terms and school days.
They also do not need to follow national pay and conditions for teachers. Academies were brought in by Tony Blair’s Labour Government in an attempt to improve struggling schools, particularly those in deprived areas.
However the coalition Government has sought to see more schools of all standards convert to academy status.
HOW DOES A SCHOOL BECOME AN ACADEMY?
Once the governing body of a school has voted for conversion, an application is submitted to the Department for Education. Once approved, the secretary of state issues an academy order and a trust is set up with what is effectively a contract to run the academy for the Government.
It then registers the academy trust with Companies House and agrees leasing arrangements for buildings and land. The final stage sees those in charge sign a funding agreement with the secretary of state. Schools must hold some form of consultation.
However, this has been a bone of contention, with many academies criticised for the length and scope of consultation and the amount of information made available for parents. Importantly the school does not need permission from the local authority to convert.
WHY BECOME AN ACADEMY?
The Department for Education pays £25,000 towards conversion costs once the deal is signed. The school then gets as much as 10% on top of its budget. This is because its funding comes straight from central Government.
This means that on top of the regular per pupil funding it gets money that would previously have been held back by the local authority.
Academies can be more businesslike in their approach to buying in their services. The results can see them become more efficient. Large academy groups, such as Woodard Academies, can also benefit from working together. For example they can buy in bulk and save on economies of scale.
Academies also have more freedom over staff pay – meaning they can make more savings where possible and pay more than local authority-controlled schools to attract and retain good teachers. Freedom over length of the school days and the curriculum also makes it possible for those in charge to tailor learning to the perceived needs of pupils.
WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?
Academies have attracted criticism since they were introduced under the Labour Government.
Unions argue they will fracture the state education system and open the door to privatisation. Many large companies and groups run large chains of schools. It is argued that they will often have their own agenda when educating youngsters.
Critics also argue local councils – who no longer control their finances – will be weakened. Academies do not have to agree to national pay and conditions agreements negotiated by teaching unions.
The fear for many teaching staff is that they will be worse off as business-minded academy bosses try to drive down spending. While academies still answer to the Department for Education, critics argue they are less accountable than other state schools because they are not overseen by their local elected leaders – the council.
There has also been much criticism over the ability for academies to control their admissions. They can select up to 10% of their pupils based on their aptitude for a particular subject, such as music, and many academies fall into this category.
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