Monday, 19 July 2010

The great Barnet schools sell-off?

I went to the teaching unions' lobby of Parliament today. Originally called to protest at the axing of the Building Schools for the Future scheme, there were also plenty of people asking their MPs questions about the Tories' plans to push schools into becoming academies.

The implications of our own Barnet council's enthusiasm for academies become clearer in this paper - "Conversion of schools to Academy status – transfer of land" - prepared for the Cabinet Resources Commmittee tonight.

All new academy schools will have to be leased to their Academy Trust for 125 years. There is a risk, as the paper acknowledges, that a Trust might try to vary the use of the school land - build some flats? - in which case the council would have to take them to court.

The staff are effectively sold to the new Trust; in theory, under TUPE legislation, the new employer has to keep them on the same terms, conditions, pay, etc, but once a transfer has taken place, there is little to stop the new employer finding a pretext for tearing up the old contract and offering a new, worse, one. This is what happened to the Fremantle care workers.

There are other worrying aspects of academies (to put it mildly). There is no requirement to consult staff, Local Authority or even parents when a school applies to become an academy; an academy trust can ignore the National Curriculum; once a school becomes an academy, governors are usually appointed by the sponsor; with the academies gone, it will be much harder to plan for the needs of non-academy schools and to plan education in the borough generally... I could go on and on.

The Cabinet Resources paper mentions a couple more:

...The grant of 125 year leases to schools adopting Academy status will mean that the Council will have less flexibility in managing its school property portfolio. The Council will only retain a reversionary interest in the school. The Council would no longer have the ability to make changes to schools such as increasing or decreasing the size to meet pupil demand, setting up specialist units in schools or closure.

...The Council is likely to incur significant legal costs in negotiating and granting leases for Academies, if a number of schools choose to convert. The Department for Education (DfE) has indicated that a standard lease template will be produced, which would reduce costs to an extent although resource pressures are likely. Each school converting to Academy status will receive £25,000 from the DfE towards expenditure related to conversion. The Council will seek to recover legal costs from schools where appropriate.
For ideological reasons, Barnet council can't wait to wash its hands of its schools. But the mass conversion to academies sure as hell doesn't look like saving the council any money!

Barnet Anti Academies Alliance was set up at a meeting last week to inform schools, parents, staff and Barnet residents generally about the implications of academies for Barnet education, and to resist the policy. For more information email

The campaign will be producing a newspaper over the summer which will be available for the start of next term, and they are setting up a website with local information. Until those are ready, to find out more about academies, visit the website of the Anti Academies Alliance.

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