Lancashire puts the academies’ boot on the other foot

It would probably be fair to say that Lancashire is not Michael Gove’s favourite local authority. There has been a running war of words for some time over the place of academies in the county – there are only 26 out of 640 schools. The former Schools’ Commissioner was forthright in seeking to get more primary academies and academy brokers have been active in the county, though with limited success.

For its part the County Council has complained that pressure to become an academy is distracting schools and in particular heads from their real job of raising standards. Then today it is reported in the Independent that “officials from Michael Gove’s department are offering £65,000 “bribes” to convince reluctant headteachers to convert their schools to academies…. The Independent understands £40,000 in payments have been offered to 32 schools in Lancashire alone, with similar sums offered to schools in other parts of the country.” This complaint came initially from Lancashire NAHT.

The DfE is of course unapologetic asserting that “ministers are clear that the best way to turn round under-performing schools is with the strong external challenge and support from academy sponsors. Academies have already turned around hundreds of struggling schools across the country.” They might want to consider that of the sponsored academies with a current inspection grade on the Ofsted database, 44% either need improvement or inadequate …. and the remaining 56% will include the likes of Mossbourne which were new schools with no predecessor to be “turned round”. So not the most convincing hit rate.

But now two Lancashire secondary academies have gone into special measures in just a couple of weeks. One of these was a converter academy that was outstanding before it converted. Lancashire has now written to the DfE demanding to know “what they are doing to monitor standards in academies in Lancashire because that is their job”. They go on to say “if one of our schools was in special measures, they would be challenging us. Now the boot is on the other foot.”

It’s hugely refreshing to see a Labour led authority taking a robust line with the bullies from the DfE. Even better is the fact that the previous Tory administration was equally robust before the county elections this year. It’s long overdue that Gove and his cronies were required to take responsibility for their actions.

Whether the DfE has replied to Lancashire is not known. But there has been a public comment from the department. They said that “there is no link between these schools becoming academies and the judgements made by Ofsted inspectors”.

It’s worth a moment reflecting on this breath-taking piece of double-speak. When academies do well ministers are clear that it’s entirely due to them becoming academies. But when they do badly, it would seem ministers are equally clear that academy status has absolutely nothing to do with it.

The more important questions however are what is the DfE actually doing to stop this kind of thing happening. Lostock Hall was outstanding in 2007 and this was confirmed in 2011. It converted in 2012 and in that year was only satisfactory. Now it’s in special measures and Ofsted found that “School leaders and governors have been complacent and have let this decline in achievement go on for too long”. So the real question for the DfE is did they know how quickly this school was going downhill and if they did what did they do about it? And if they didn’t know, why not? These are things I think we should be demanding to know.

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2 Comments on “Lancashire puts the academies’ boot on the other foot”

  1. kateab65 says:

    Thank you for writing this about what is going on in Lancashire. A junior school in Leyland has just come out of special measures in record time, however some months back, Ofsted actually wrote: “Another significant barrier to improvement has been the amount of time the headteacher has been involved in the discussions about transferring to an academy” and following this, LCC banned all DfE brokers from all schools. You can also read about this here http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/mar/25/ofsted-conerns-academies-undermine-improvement

    What I consider is a huge problem in Lostock Hall’s case is the idea that Ofsted will not routinely reinspect supposedly outstanding schools and I think this has made them complacent. Mind you, under the new framework, they wouldn’t have got Outstanding in 2007 as their teaching was only rated good. As a parent localish to all this going on, I know of other schools (primary mostly) that are supposedly outstanding that I would suggest aren’t all that Ofsted say they are as there appear to be issues with parents moving children etc but because they are “outstanding” and there is no concern that Ofsted might be breathing down their necks anytime soon, it doesn’t get picked up unless their results are poor. It is utter madness.

    As a parent governor of a primary school (none of those mentioned!) I know that LCC is very supportive of its schools and work well collaboratively to improve them. When the structure is there to do this and the LEA is effective, I don’t understand why schools want to convert to academies althought it does seem to be all the rage here in Lancashire with a number of conversions. Let’s hope they don’t all go the same way as Lostock Hall as generally, most schools in Lancashire are pretty good.

  2. When the DfE voice their misguided and misleading rhetoric, there is no counterpoint voice available. So they can shout loudly and any reaction, such as here, is diluted by temporal displacement. This recurring problem with politics as currently exercised is deeply flawed.