The board of governors at Hove Park School are meeting tonight (Monday 22nd) to decide its fate. They will be voting on whether to convert the school to an academy, or keep it under local-authority control. It is a question that should have been resolved months ago, and there should have been a clear and definitive answer: the school is doing just fine, and will continue to do so. It simply doesn’t need to become an academy.
That the issue has been allowed to drag on for so long, with all the disruption and uncertainty it has brought, is bad enough. That some of the governors and the school leadership team are still so hell-bent on conversion, beggars belief. The message from all quarters has been unequivocal against conversion.
Teachers at the school are overwhelmingly opposed, even to the extent of taking strike action. Pupils have expressed their concerns with admirable enthusiasm. Parents have issued an unmistakeable rejection – not just in a series of campaigns and meetings that have drawn committed and widespread support, but in a council-run vote that resulted in 71% of parents voting against academisation.
Its supporters argue a 40% turnout in the vote shows parents are either apathetic or happy to accept the change in status. That is a foolish assumption to make – and sits uneasily beside an earlier opportunity the school gave for parents to vote on a uniform change that produced just 80 votes. Yet this still led the school to treat the result as a ringing endorsement for change.
That’s an odd take on democracy. And the school never offered a vote on the issue that really mattered. Instead, the head of governors and the leadership team have persisted with a weak, misleading and illogical counter campaign. Proper consultation, that fairly lays out the pros and cons of all the options, has been non-existent.
The arguments made in favour of academisation are dubious and do not stand up to scrutiny. The evidence in favour of retaining local authority control is compelling and convincing.
Academy schools do not transform academic achievement. They can set schools against each other, threaten teacher pay and standards, and undermine the whole principle of a good education open to all. They lack accountability and are prone to highly controversial takeovers from individuals and organisations pursuing narrow interests. Witness the disturbing problems at academy schools in Birmingham in recent months.
The success of Hove Park offers an acute contrast. The huge strides it has made in recent years are down to many things. The outstanding work of teachers – and the leadership team – is self evident. So too is the enthusiasm of a wonderful group of children, actively supported by their parents. The council-wide admissions policy has also played a major part.
I have seen this first hand. When my eldest daughter was first awarded a place at Hove Park, it was at a very low ebb. Teachers and pupils were trying hard, but exam results had big room for improvement. Many outsiders looked down on the school, belittling it and its pupils. ‘Why do you want to send your kids there?’ was an oft-heard comment.
Six years on, the answer is clear. Hove Park is one of the most improved schools in the country, and has achieved this at a time of hostile government policy and enormous funding challenges. The school is a runaway success. And all this has been achieved while under LEA control. The conclusion is blindingly obvious: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The original justification for considering academy status was presented in a confusing brochure that was high on gloss and low on coherent argument. It even threatened emotional blackmail, talking of a ‘moral imperative’ to consider academy status.
This was an insult to everyone opposed to the idea. They have all since spoken, and will do so again at a rally outside the upper school gates tonight, but it seems some on the board and the leadership team are still refusing to listen.
It is high time they did the right thing and rejected these unnecessary, irresponsible plans, so that Hove Park School can concentrate on what it does best: offering an excellent education for and within a community that values it so highly.