Dear Nicky Morgan

I have been reading your interview with the Guardian on Friday, and I’m concerned and not a little bit angry. Many of the views you expressed in your interview, and the related proposals in your recent White Paper, don’t make sense to me as a parent.

Along with millions of others in England, I’m both a parent of school-aged children and a taxpayer. I therefore have not just a personal interest in my children’s education but a vested interest in the whole system working effectively. In contrast you seem to think of us parents as passive bystanders about what happens in our schools.  I am sure you, as a parent, would consider yourself to have the skills required to be an effective governor, and thus an interest in school structures. This is true for me, and for all the parents I know who are governors. So I’m unsure why you are seeking to antagonise parents across the country by suggesting otherwise. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that you are mostly concerned with removing power from local people.

I have been a school governor (not, as it happens, a parent-governor), so I know from personal experience that even a few years ago,  governors were expected to be able to accommodate and interpret large volumes of data and complex policy detail and still be good communicators and ambassadors for their school. I also know that at times,  parents in general can have unrealistic expectations of schools (and schooling) or just be downright annoying. But we also have an emotional investment in our local schools which is, for example, what motivates parent school associations to raise thousands across the country to complement educational provision and to help with reading in the classroom – signs of a collaborative relationship which I would have expected you to support.

In your plans you to force all schools to become academies, you suggest that neither parents nor the local authority should retain any formal relationship with our schools.  But if you remove us from formal involvement in our schools, how do you expect us to feel sufficiently invested in the system to retain these informal support mechanisms?  Furthermore, you seem to be expecting the local authority, stripped of all responsibility, power or resources for overseeing our local schools,  to bounce back from such a hammering so that it can actively “champion the rights of parents” (your words not mine).  I would really appreciate an explanation of how this is going to work in practice, and what difference it will make either to parents or to schools. (Incidentally, I understand that one of your proposals is to pay some governors. Why not just carry on paying the local authority to run a service across schools – surely that would be more efficient, and less subject to conflicts of interest?)

My son’s secondary school recently became an academy because it became clear that the local authority had retained neither the financial nor human resources to provide an effective school support service. It made the move, presumably having seen the writing on the wall, giving it the freedom at least to choose a local trust which actively seeks to promote collaboration between its schools. But my daughter’s primary school is not an academy, nor does it have any reason  – or desire – to become one. It is a successful local school, rated outstanding, and with firm roots in our local community and widespread participation in music and sports – the kind of activities that make our children’s experience of school positive instead of  it an endless battery of tests. (Believe me, this positive experience is important; my daughter finds the tests very stressful even though she’s pretty good at them).  Her school is already free to make effective choices about how it budgets for and teaches the personal, literacy, mathematical and enquiring skills that children need to be equipped with on leaving primary school. As a parent, I like the choices my daughter’s school makes now. What benefits do you anticipate would flow from forcing her school down a path it clearly doesn’t need?

I imagine that both of these schools would appreciate the increase in funding that would result from the fair funding proposals in the White Paper, as Suffolk is one of the 40 lowest funded authorities (per pupil). But in seeking to implement this proposal without addressing the funding gap, you are simply proposing to drag down schools elsewhere to increase the funding for mine, and set groups of us parents against each-other. As antagonistic practices go, it is exceeded only by the statement that really made me angry in your Guardian interview, and which seems to have given you licence to pursue the plans in your White Paper: apparently we parents are insufficiently interested in education for it to be a campaign issue. Apparently we just don’t care enough. Really?  And that’s why the forced academisation of schools wasn’t in the Conservative Manifesto?  That’s a very scary statement for a government to make – and doesn’t exactly sound rooted in the kind of empirical evidence you apparently want to see underpinning our education system.

In producing a manifesto and choosing what to talk about on national media you have plenty of opportunities to influence those doorstep conversations. It speaks volumes about how you view the electorate that you chose not to indicate what you were planning to do you our schools, and our school system, in the election campaign. You feared the outcome if people had know the plans – rather like those NHS ‘reforms’ that were denied and lied about in the 2010 campaign.

We parents are emotionally invested in our children’s education, but we are not stupid, blinkered or unreasonable. Your communications have done nothing to explain why you are keener to pursue an ideological change, with no clear benefits to our education system, than to support the system and its users to pursue a rounded, meaningful and useful education for our children. I can’t tell if you intentionally set out to antagonise parents with your proposals or whether we are just collateral damage. Either way, you are setting us up to  fight (alongside  teachers and school leaders) for the resources and organisational structures that can most efficiently, fairly and effectively make that education happen. If that’s what you want, you’re on.

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. As a former LEA chair in another F40 authority, the other aspect of this exercise that makes me bool with fury is the fact that in the 90s when funding was least generous, in common with many other LEAs, we spent far more on education than we were ever given by government. I don’t see councils being prepared to do anything if future governments of whatever Colour reduce funding for academies.

    I also don’t see how DofE is going to get their hands on CofE schools without confiscating church assets

    Reply

  2. Well I have a reply (in my direct letter I tweaked the last couple of lines slightly but otherwise the letter was as set out here). I note that the DfE say they would welcome my comments. I’m not sure they would.

    Dear Ms Bishton

    I am writing on behalf of the Secretary of State to thank you for your email of 7 April about your concerns with proposals in the White Paper.

    I note the points you raise however can clarify the government are not banning parents from governance. We recognise and strongly welcome the valuable contribution that parents can make to effective governance. High quality governance is vital for the success of an autonomous school led system.

    Engaging with parents and others to understand their views and needs is vital for effective governance, but it is not the same thing as governance. All parents need a voice, and this government is actually increasing academies’ engagement with parents. For the first time we will create an expectation that every academy puts in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with all parents, and to listen to their views and feedback.

    Many parents will have valuable skills that make them very effective governors and boards are and will continue to be free to appoint them as they see fit. We are clear that academies do not need to reserve places on the board for parents, simply because they are parents, so we are ending our requirement on them to do so. Many Multi Trust Academies (MATs) are already focusing their school level bodies on parental engagement, leaving the board free to focus on fully skills-based governance.

    We do recognise there are specific challenges for primary schools and will provide them with tailored support in the process by guidance and evidence based ‘how-to’ tools and case studies of best practice. We will also look to strong organisations already operating in the sector to help build capacity.

    MATs particularly cross-phase ones will be crucial to the long-term success of primary schools in a fully academised system as they stand to benefit financially, educationally and in governance terms from these arrangements. MATs can offer schools significant benefits in staffing and leadership, with improved career opportunities and support for teachers and leaders, excellent practice in teaching and curriculum, more robust governance and more efficient back-office arrangements that free up more funding for the classroom.

    In contrast to relying on the ability of the local authority to improve their schools, full academisation will mean that all schools will be part of a dynamic system in which underperformance can be addressed decisively by removing and replacing those in control of schools. Local authorities have clear interests and responsibilities which mean they need to represent the interests of pupils and parents such as:

    · ensuring the admissions process is well co-ordinated and fair.

    · where children have special educational needs, they are responsible for assessing their needs and ensuring that they can attend the school which best meets them.

    · They have clear safeguarding responsibilities for all children regardless of where they are educated.

    · For children in care to act as a “corporate parent” with a duty to promote their education achievement and progress.

    Local authorities will continue to retain their existing statutory levers in these areas and will continue to receive funding to cover the costs of delivering them.

    I hope the information is helpful.

    Your correspondence has been allocated reference number xxxxx. If you need to respond to us, please visit: https://www.education.gov.uk/contactus and quote your reference number.

    As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at: https://www.education.gov.uk/pctsurvey.

    Yours sincerely

    Reply

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