IslingtonTribune

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Academy switch, a distraction not a solution

10 February, 2017 — By Dave Gilchrist

Highbury Grove, ‘plunged into the storm of forced academis­ation’

OFSTED, the government’s schools inspection force, has rated Highbury Grove School “inadequate”.

This means the school is by government policy automatically plunged into the storm of forced academisation.

This is a distraction from the needs of the school, not a solution. Similarly, the attempt to open a free school in the vicinity will act to destabilise local schools, including Highbury Grove. In this, as in all education matters, the government is acting ideologically, not in the interests of local people.

Tom Sherrington, the departed headteacher, uses a range of metaphors in his latest blog to explain the difficulties of school improvement. Is it like turning a tanker at sea? Is it like white water rafting? Is it “The Perfect Storm”?

Unfortunately, Mr Sherrington has abandoned ship and left students and parents of the school all at sea. He appears to share a crucial concept with the government – that turmoil is needed to improve our schools.

Was there a lack of backing for his policies? We know that many were unhappy with the behaviour policies he introduced and other methods. Many did not think that the upheaval was warranted; the school was doing well, already judged “outstanding” in 2011.

Parents, of course, are livid. They say that the school cannot be judged by a two-day inspection, that if it were to happen now then the outcome would be different.

This reveals the problems with the Ofsted system. A beloved and long-standing community asset is judged by ever-changing criteria that take no account of its wider place in our local society.

The shifting sands and moving goalposts of the Ofsted inspection regime are all very real.

Dave Gilchrist

Some believe that it was a set up, a hatchet job. But this is to miss the point. It is not necessary to target individual schools.

The ideologues of privatisation have set the course; Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE) are operating a policy that leads inevitably to academisation.

Having been forced to neuter the Academies Bill, a plan that would have forced all schools, all at once, to become academies, the government will instead attempt to grind out the same policy through the existing machinery.

This drive to privatisation flies in the face of all evidence, especially if a school is judged to be failing. Local authorities such as Islington have an excellent record in improving schools.

In contrast, data released by the DfE in July 2015 shows that a school rated “inadequate” by Ofsted was almost four times more likely to remain so at its next inspection if it became a sponsored academy than if it had remained a maintained school.

And Ofsted data released in December 2015 shows that among “inadequate” schools which had become sponsored academies, 12 per cent remained inadequate (one in eight) compared to just two per cent (one in 50) of those that remained in the local authority maintained sector.

A campaign group has been set up by parents to defend the school from being forced to become an academy. They, along with teachers and the National Union of Teachers are calling for the Ofsted judgement to be challenged, which would provide a small breathing space.

There is one thing that Tom Sherrington is correct about: the turmoil in schools comes from the constant intervention of the DfE designed to create competition between schools.

What Highbury Grove needs is for the DfE to get its hands off the tiller and allow the appointment of a new head who is given adequate time and support from our local authority to steady the ship.

Parents are mobilising for this. We should back them.

Dave Gilchrist is a spokesman for the Anti Academies Alliance (AAA) in Islington and Haringey. The AAA is a campaign composed of unions, parents, pupils, teachers, councillors and MPs.

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