Plans are now underway to form a MAT (Multi-Academy Trust) out of six Lewes schools without any formal parental consultation. Parents have set up a petition calling for teachers and parents of all registered pupils to be given a meaningful ballot over the proposal. The next meeting of Save Lewes Schools is on Wednesday 9th January, 2019 at the Royal Oak, Station Street, Lewes .
If you don’t receive the Lewes Labour newsletter and want to know more, here’s a more in depth looks at the situation so far in Lewes Town.
MULTI ACADEMY TRUST FOR LEWES? Parents, teachers and NEU join forces to Save Lewes Schools
Plans are ‘advanced’ to take the following schools into a six-school multi-academy trust (MAT) comprising the following Lewes schools, both secondary and primary: Southover, South Malling, Wallands, Western Road, Iford and Kingston and Priory. St Pancras School is not included in the proposals because it is a Catholic school. Catholic schools would only consider joining a MAT with other same faith schools.
The rationale for these proposals is unclear. The Priory Headteacher painted a grim picture of this government’s funding for schools and is on record saying that ‘the cupboards are bare’ at a Lewes Labour Open Meeting last year, but until now has been vocal against academisation.
So what do we know so far? There is no financial advantage to the schools in academisation – they receive no more money and won’t have the economies of scale provided by the Local Education Authority (LEA) which oversees 70 percent of primary schools in East Sussex. There is no research evidence to show that academisation drives up standards or provides a better school experience, in fact the experiences of many schools is to the contrary, as covered widely in the press. Teaching staff can be taken off the teachers’ pay scale and forced to sign new contracts that do not provide the same terms, conditions and benefits, driving down wages and union representation. Support staff providing special needs provision and other pastoral care services are often cut, with drastic consequences for pupils. Perhaps the only personal and financial advantage comes to those appointed as managers of the new CEO structure, who in many cases can receive salaries running into the hundreds of thousands.
Teachers and support staff at Priory have voted to join their colleagues at Southover and are writing to governors to oppose plans.
Once a school becomes an academy, there is no going back because there is no legislation in place or the mechanisms to take schools back into the fold of the LEA. Indeed, if the school goes into special measures or is ‘given back’ by the trust running it, it has to be taken on by another academy sponsor. One of the main concerns of the Lewes parents fighting these plans is that the plan to be a ‘community’ MAT here is irreversible and is the first step towards being taken over by one of the academy chains if things were to go wrong down the line.
Emily Clarke says “I have attended three meetings over the last couple of weeks; the initial organising meeting above the Royal Oak where parents shared information and ideas and began to formulate a plan, the standing-room-only meeting at the Phoenix Centre organised by the NEU and Save Lewes Schools, and finally the Parent’s Forum at Southover School where I used to work as support staff and where my son is in year 4. At all three meetings, when pressed, only two potential advantages were given. The first is that schools could work closely together to achieve the best for pupils in a climate of cuts and underfunding. The current cooperative model where headteachers work together and spend time in other schools, to share knowledge and specialisms is already working well and there is no reason why this model can’t continue to develop and grow without academisation. Secondly, at the Southover Parents Forum, governors spoke of a potential moral argument for the MAT so that schools who are in a slightly better financial situation could pull together to assist other schools in the town who may be struggling now or in the future. As a Socialist I can absolutely understand the desire to work together and leave no one behind, but looking at the evidence the MAT model simply will not achieve this.”
Across the county LEA services, such as language services, are likely to be depleted, as academisation reduces the overall pot of money available to LEA schools. Rather than pooling resources to assist schools in trouble, Lewes schools joining a MAT would simply mean depleting the pot for other schools.
There has been an immediate fight-back against the proposed MAT in Lewes. What can you do?
The National Education Union (NEU) and parents believe there is a good chance of stopping Lewes academisation plans due to strength of teaching unions and good support from parents. But it’s not assured and the plans appear well advanced. There are very few rules around the time scale or specifics of consultations, so it is important that we all make our voices heard as the process unfolds rather than wait until the last moment.
The ‘Save Lewes Schools’ campaign has already held a well-attended meeting to launch the campaign and meetings at all the affected schools have seen strong opposition to the plans. The campaign is calling for a ballot of teachers and parents which has been supported by Lewes Labour and County Councillor Ruth O’Keefe, and SLS is also liaising with the Anti-Academy Alliance and the successful Brighton and Hove campaign.
Our branch has already carried unanimously a resolution that “this branch opposes the proposed academisation of Lewes schools and supports the action taken by staff and parents, including the Save Your Schools and NEU campaigns”
(Branch meeting November 29th)
We urge all local people to sign the petition to force a debate at ESCC and support the campaign against the MAT, especially those who have children, at the affected schools.
The parent-led group is on Facebook as SaveLewesSchools and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @lewesparents
There is also an Anti Academies meeting in London on January 19th, 2019, 1-3 pm at the Wesley Hotel, Euston St, NW1 2EZ. Organised by the Anti-Academies Alliance, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a place at the meeting.
The Lewes Labour branch has voted unanimously against the academisation of Lewes schools and fully support the Lewes Parents campaign.
As of 4 Dec, 1.400 people have signed the Lewes Parents campaign petition to stop the proposal and to give parents and teachers a say in the future of Lewes Schools. They need 5k signatures with local postcodes before they can submit the petition to the county. Please sign the parents’ petition and make sure their voices are heard, this is not a done deal.