The forgotten cost of academisation?

 

As ever, with any Government announcement – particularly about education, the recent decision regarding transforming every school into an academy has (understandably) raised the ire of many. For some it’s the speed of the process for every school in the country – just think, for current Year 1¬†children, their local secondary won’t be LA controlled by the time they attend it. Others stress the issue of it being forced upon people, even if it’s not wanted or agreed with – though junior doctors can share their experiences about how this feels! Whilst numerous colleagues cite statistics to counter the claim that it’s necessary to remove LAs permanently from the education landscape to raise standards – yet other, Cameron/ Morgan, statistics are wheeled out to the contrary; what was it about lies, damn lies and statistics?

These issues will be explored by others more qualified than I, I know – well at least I hope they will be! This cannot be something that is simply accepted in education, where once again educators roll over and accept their lot – then complain extensively, usually on social media, but long after the horse has bolted!

However, for me there is – perhaps, a greater concern that I have yet to hear from anyone. I feel it needs addressing and want to start the conversation here, who knows, maybe someone will use this as a stimulus for a question tomorrow night on Question Time when Secretary of State Nicky Morgan appears?

The issue? Permanent exclusions.

The DfE’s own figures – even accounting for the statistical difficulties of schools converting to academy status and the school responsible for the permanent exclusion changing, show that the number of permanent exclusions from academies is rising. And by rising, this cannot be explained away the fact there are more academies each year, statistically the increase is much larger than can be elucidated by this simple reasoning. In fact, for secondary academies the rise in exponential – one area is already showing more exclusions for this academic year than the entirety of last year for its secondary academies. Furthermore, academies are showing more permanent exclusions for persistent, disruptive behaviour.

“Hooray!” Some people will cry. In fact, Michael Wilshaw has often cited this as a block to learning – in The Guardian here. “About time!” Others will say, or, “It wasn’t like that in my day” etc, etc, etc. These sentiments miss a few key points:

  • Academies do not have to accept permanently excluded pupils as they run their own admission arrangements – many do, accept them, but there are exceptions.
  • Whilst no school has to accept a child who has been permanently excluded twice, here academies lag way behind their maintained colleagues.
  • At present the LA controls the distribution of children who are excluded – particularly for provision from the 6th day, but has no sway over academies and have to rely on establishing relationships – but power mad demagogues exist who like to be able exclude LA officials as well as children!
  • There is currently the ridiculous situation that as academy exclusions increase, they are included in LA figures, yet the LA has no power to change or support processes inside academies to reverse this trend and yet are still expected to be held to account by elected officials at local and national levels.

Notwithstanding these concerns, I feel there are far worse – especially as they relate to issues that are in statute:

  1. Currently, in maintained schools, an LA officer must be present at permanent exclusion hearings; not the case in academies.
  2. During a hearing the LA officer is asked their view and has the right to question and challenge, not the case at academies, even if invited – yes, an academy really can invite an expert in exclusions and then they can make them sit mute for the entire hearing! (I know of one case where a hearing lasted for 3 hours!)
  3. The LA officer is expected to be impartial, but ensure that the process is fair to all – particularly for the parent and pupil who can feel a ‘them and us’ status exists. After all, even if this is only perception, it is the Head who excludes and the governors – who appointed him/ her, who hear the case and decide whether to uphold it.
  4. Similarly, the LA officer ensures that statutory regulations are followed – examples I am aware of where schools/ governors have ‘accidentally’ needed reminding of the legal process include; exclusion packs not being sent to parents, governors and school representatives meeting before the hearing, evidence being omitted from a pack yet expected to be considered, believing that a parent not attending is justification for upholding the decision ‘they’re obviously not bothered’.

So as, once again, the Government politicises education – there were those who thought the new exams for KS2 and 4 were designed to ensure schools were caught coasting or failing to secure mass academisation; what did they know? I have a few questions.

a) Does the Government plan to rewrite the exclusions framework to account for the wholesale academy status of schools and allow for independent people at the hearings?

b) Who will provide support for parents (and schools) when LAs disappear, if only to ensure statue is followed judiciously?

c) How will the DfE ensure that appropriately qualified people are present – will this involve commissioning of current LA staff?

d) Who will try to arrest the alarming rise in permanent exclusions once LAs are gone?

e) As expectations and pressures increase for exam performance, mental health issues rise too and these are undoubtedly at the heart of many exclusions – even at primary level. Where is the support for this – apparently a priority for the Government?

f) Is there any planned change for academies’ ¬†admissions criteria for when the maintained schools are not there to ‘mop up’ permanently excluded children?

g) How is this all to happen as sixth form colleges continue to be squeezed, expecting 16-19 education solely into schools and further burden sorry, freedoms are given to secondary schools?

David Cameron and Nicky Morgan claim, constantly, that these changes are for the benefit of the children – whilst providing freedoms for schools and choice for parents. However, surely the question of exclusions – even only those raised here, must be answered before we go headlong into such a wholesale change?

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