Paws off Parrs Wood! ‘Fear of government’ only reason top Manchester school faces reform, warn teachers union

Parents, teachers and unions are in despair as one of Manchester’s largest and most successful schools faces imminent academisation ‘out of fear’, claims the National Union of Teachers.

Governors of Parrs Wood High School in East Didsbury have been consulting with stakeholders and unions to convert to academy status since October this year.

But the consultation process, which ends on December 7, was reportedly disorganised, one-sided and lacking in transparency.

MM can reveal that staff were ‘too frightened’ to hand in their consultation forms – one school briefing even stated that those who opposed the proposal were either ‘ideological or confused’.

John Morgan, secretary for the National Union of Teachers in Manchester, told MM: “The governors at Parrs Wood seem to be making the decision to take one of the largest and most successful schools in the city out of democratic local control out of fear.

“Fear that something worse will happen to them if they don’t do the Government’s work for them. 

“That is no way to run education policy in a city as large and important as Manchester.”

What is an academy?

Academies are independent, state-funded schools, as opposed to state schools which are monitored and supported by a local authority.

Day-to-day control over academies remains with the headteacher, but are overseen by individual charitable bodies called academy trusts and may be part of an academy chain.

These trusts provide advice, support and expertise.

They have more freedom than other state schools, particularly over their curriculum and finances, and do not need to follow national pay guidelines and conditions for teachers.

David Cameron announced that the government have plans to convert 1000 more schools into academies by 2020.

Why are schools feeling the pressure?

The proposed Education and Adoption Bill will give powers to regional school commissioners to convert schools into academies if they are failing or ‘coasting’, in order to improve their standards.

Governors have been known to consider ‘academising’ their schools as a preemptive measure against being forced into it in the future.

Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell refused to support the anti-academy campaign at Parrs Wood, citing those exact reasons.

According to research by school finance specialist HCSS Education, more than 80% of school leaders say they feel pressured about converting to academy status.

The latest data shows, however, that converter academies do not necessarily improve standards, but can in fact make them worse.

What is happening at Parrs Wood High School?

Parents, teachers and community members are afraid that reforming Parrs Wood, a school rated as good by Ofsted, will destabilise the quality of education to their students.

Reasons include the possibility of worsening the curriculum, hiring unqualified teachers, financial insecurity, and being forced into a sponsored academy in the future.

Which means even less control over staffing and admissions.

Who is campaigning?

‘Paws off Parrs Wood’ is a campaign against the school’s academisation.

Comprised of parents/carers, community members and staff, the group started a petition which has received more than 600 signatures so far.

A Paws off Parrs Wood spokesperson said: “It is the School Governing Body’s duty to conduct a fair, comprehensive and transparent consultation with all stakeholders when proposing to academise. We don’t think that this has been the case for Parrs Wood.

“The consultation period could have been started much sooner, and been much longer, to give enough time for all stakeholders to become properly engaged.

“Dialogue with unions and staff has soured. At least four members of staff have been taken in to be spoken to.

“Some staff are too frightened to hand in their own consultation forms. At one whole school briefing we were told that those who opposed to the proposal were either ‘ideological or confused’.”

They added that the governors of Parrs Wood have been considering academy status since March 2014, as described in their minutes which were only published recently.

But they only told unions in October this year, giving them six weeks to have a comprehensive consultation, even though Department for Education guidelines encourage a minimum of eight.

They added: “The unions have asked the head teacher and governors repeatedly for an official staff ballot and a parent ballot.

“The staff have been told they will not be allowed a staff ballot. This is standard practice that has taken place in other academy consultations.

“As for parents, the only reason more haven’t engaged is due to the lack of transparency of the process. Feels like a fait accompli. Feels like no matter what anyone says it’s a ‘done deal’.”

The school governors have not confirmed when they will make the decision to academise.

But unions believe it will take place at a meeting on December 10.

Can the campaign fight off academy status?

‘Hands off Hove Park’ (HOHP) is another campaign that successfully beat plans to convert Hove Park School in East Sussex earlier this year.

Natasha Steel, HOHP representative, explained why it is important for local authority schools to prevent academy conversion.

She told MM: “Contrary to what a lot of people think there is no evidence to show that academies perform better than local authority schools and there is no extra money available for converter academies. 

“Accountability is eroded when an unknown trust manages the school budget and answers only to the Department for Education in London. 

“Academies can set their admissions policies to suit their own ambitions rather than in the interests of the whole community.

“In an area where all the schools have converted this could leave some children without a school place and local authorities without any schools to put them in. 

She added that school buildings, which are publically owned assets paid for by taxes, are handed over to private trusts on 100-year contracts.

“I wish the Paws off Parrs Wood campaigners every success in saving their school from the backdoor privatisation of our state education system,” she said.

What have the governors said?

Suzannah Reeves, governor of Parrs Wood High School, told MM: “This government has made it clear that they are going to take all schools out of local authority control in the life of this parliament.

“We are genuinely saddened that some staff and a small minority of parents feel that we have not consulted and tried to engage.

“We have attempted to engage stakeholders in a fair range of forums over a recognised fair period of time.

“We very much respect each person’s opinion, whether they support or are opposed to academisation.

“However, we strongly believe that there needs to be a realistic understanding of the government’s drive to remove every school from the city council’s control which seems to be accepted by the majority of educationalists, stakeholders and the city council itself.”

Image couresy of Parrs Wood High School via. YouTube, with thanks.

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