An open letter about the state of education from concerned grandmother Kes Grant of the anti-academisation campaign John Roan Resists.
I was raised in an alcoholic household. Education was not deemed important and I had no encouragement. Despite some teachers seeing the potential in me I was too busy surviving to realise that potential. Despite all this, and having left home and school at age 15, I succeeded in terms of the world of work and ended up in a well-paid job.
Eventually I returned to my studies, attending university in my mid-30s and discovering I could cope academically, despite what I had believed in my younger years. As a result of this, I have been determined to make sure the children in my life have the best education they can get. My daughter, I feel, didn’t have the best experience of school. I was then even more keen therefore to ensure my grandchildren faired better. All four of my grandchildren now to go to the John Roan School, a local comprehensive school.
The school had had a good reputation but the headteacher, who had been there many years, retired in 2015. Unfortunately, following this, the school’s governing body made a series of bad appointments. There were four heads in the space of a couple of years. OFSTED came in and ranked the school as ‘inadequate’. Under the current Government’s rules this means that a Forced Academy Order is triggered and the school has no choice but to become an academy. This decision, and the Government’s policy, is extremely divisive. I have never known anything be improved by privatisation. What unites the parents campaigning against this move is wanting the best for our children and the school.
Some do not understand why so many of us are against academisation. I feel I am in a good place to be able to reflect on many aspects of current education practice. Up until recently I worked in an academy. Before that I worked in a maintained school. I have seen the best and the worst of both systems.
These are the big issues for me and the reason I will fight this Government decision with all of my might.
The human cost of academisation
Academies, even the good ones, only have to keep terms and conditions the same under TUPE rules for a year. Every academy I know of has made many of their loved and valued support staff redundant. SEND (Special Education Needs and Disabilities) departments and pastoral teams have been stripped down to being virtually non-existent. In my academy there were three student support officers. This was reduced to a single post. Teaching Assistants (TAs) have also had their numbers cut. Initially the assistant SENCO (Special Education Needs Coordinator) was made redundant. Two years later the SENCO post was also dropped. Other teaching staff and lab technicians lost their jobs. The IT department went from three staff members to one. The head teacher didn’t want to make these redundancies, but every year the budget was being further pruned. He was so committed to not making further cuts that he worked a 50% timetable, which is unheard of for heads these days. The senior team also had their numbers cut.
The academy trust (ostensibly a ‘charity’ which runs the school) central office was paid far too much for the small number of schools that were being managed. Central administrative costs spiralled, growing to 10% of the budget instead of the 0.5% previously paid to the local authority (LA). The LA provided certain services for this basic payment, whereas academy trusts charge additional fees.
I paint a picture of serious budget constraints and a workforce who don’t know where the next redundancy will land. Many feel insecure and concerned for the future. On top of all of this staff had to cope with the senior team doing regular ‘learning walks‘: in other words, having their lessons observed by in-house senior team members. They would also have inspections from ‘school improvement partners’ employed by the trust. This was more formal and graded, and felt like an OFSTED inspection. Then you have OFSTED itself. It’s all scrutiny, which takes a toll when people are feeling under-resourced and undervalued. We all believe in accountability but there has to be support too, and people’s welfare needs taken into account. The Government’s policy devalues staff and puts them under too much scrutiny and stress. In many Trusts staff are used up and spat out, suffering burn-out. Staff turnover in these places is exceptionally high.
I will continue to protest in order to protect the mental health, welfare and terms and conditions of all the staff who are making a difference to my grandchildren’s lives.
The impact on students
Another important aspect that has become more apparent since the growth and development of academies is the impact on students. The most marginalised children face the brunt of this. Sadly because of intermittent attendance or behaviour the school finds unacceptable, it can be hard to get these groups to reach their potential. I was one of those kids, but I have ended up studying theology at university and I am now a priest in the Church of England. My experience of working with such children is that they often end up being ‘off-rolled’ or ‘home-educated’ (both euphemisms for being children being removed from the school roll without being expelled). The pupils can also be placed on a ‘managed move’ to another school so that they don’t appear in the permanent exclusion category which would reflect badly on the school from which they are transferred. Any student who negatively impacts on the school’s targets and statistics is at risk. Some academies have off-rolled huge percentages of their student population. This can’t be allowed to continue.
You only get one chance to educate a child. Some things are more important than making a profit and children’s education is one of those things. I also believe it’s preferable to build up emotionally-healthy children and help them to develop into rounded adults. This is far better than fixing an adult crushed by experience because we didn’t put the necessary resources into their education.
My ideal education is one that stretches and develops young minds but also helps build moral and compassionate human beings. I don’t want my grandkids to be measured solely by their academic success – I also want them to have the opportunity to consider what is of value in life. I couldn’t place a monetary value on that – I think it’s priceless. That is why I will always say no to academies and fight to retain good quality education that’s available freely to all.
More information about opposing academisation at https://antiacademies.org.uk/
John Roan staff will be on strike on May 14 – details can be found on their Facebook event.
Please send messages of support and solidarity to firstname.lastname@example.org