Deptford says no to Tidemill becoming an academy

Letter to Keith Geary

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Keith Geary
Tidemill Primary School
Frankham Street
Deptford SE8 4RN

1st, May, 2011

Dear Keith

Thank you for your email dated 18th of April. I am sympathetic to your endeavor to contact Mark but disappointed to not have received a full response to my questions or a clear answer to whether the school is doing a consultation.

On Tidemill’s website it states “The governors propose to meet soon after that date to consider how to proceed”. I understand this as “considering” not “voting” therefore it makes little sense if a vote is taken on the academy application at the governors meeting on 4th of May. You wrote on 17th of April with no answer if there was to be a vote and then contradicting this by saying “I will of course endeavor to keep you informed of progress and get the answers to you when I can”. “We will of course discuss the academy question again, it always comes up in the agenda somewhere, but any vote would be up to the governors and we do not [a] as rule like to confine ourselves to any rigid agenda point on this or any other issue, unless of course there is a specific requirement to do so.”

Parents at the school are confused to exactly what is happening; in fact most parents and the community are under the impression that the school has withdrawn, which shows a lack of communication. There is considerable opposition from parents and the local community to Tidemill Primary School becoming an academy. I plead and stress that before the school makes a decision it is vital that the school consults all parents and the local community (not as a paper exercise but a real attempt to include their views). I believe that the 25 page document on the Tidemill website needs to be summarized and presented at a meeting to parents and the community before any decision is rushed through and splits the community.

I have included previously asked questions (24th March 2011) below as well as my response to the possible consultation document, that I sent in hope of due consideration before the decision is made:

Questions for possible conversion:

  • On the 21st of January 2011 a letter from Mark Elms and Keith Geary indicated to parents that the school would be withdrawing from its application to become an academy. A further letter was sent to parents on the 18th of February 2011 saying that the issue would be considered afresh in a governors meeting scheduled for the 10th of March. What was decided at this meeting? When will the minutes be made public?
  • The school has said that there is a ‘legal challenge’ to its application and that they will be considering the implications of that challenge but has said nothing about their reason for withdrawal. The school has so far released no information as to the content of the legal challenge. Why did the governors withdraw?
  • Will the school complete an Equalities Impact Assessment?
  • Many parents did not receive the letter on the 18th of March in their book bag, how can the school ensure that all parents know about this? Why did the school not use the text system to inform parents?
  • The only points of contact to gain feedback from the parents are (Thursday 24th, 1hour and Saturday 26th, 2 hours).  Why did the school not hold a meeting?
  • On the 18th March eight documents were made available on the schools website. One document on “the analysis of financial issues” was 25 pages long. Given that many parents speak English as a second language, why were these documents not summarized or a presentation given?
  • Why where parents not given longer than six days to digest the information before they responded?
  • The School has asked for our views by mid-day on Friday 1 April 2011. What date is set for the meeting for the governors to proceed? And does this mean that we are now under a consultation or will the school begin the consultation after that meeting?
  • Considering the move to a community building. Why does the school not want to consult the community?
  • The School has yet to present a detailed plan that sets out how the Academy status will actually improve the education for our children. Where is this document and when do you intend to make it public? This is not the current school improvement plan, but one that specifically addresses the benefits in detail that Academy status will bring within the classroom?
  • In the “Briefing Paper on Equalities” under the heading consultation it says, “The objection previously made was focused on the input provided from parents via the school rather than in response to the governors’ formal consultation.” Please could you substantiate this claim?
  • Also under the heading consultation it mentions Staff, SEN,
    Gender and Ethnicity but no detailed statistics are given. When will this information be made available?
  • The estimated financial gain for the school contained in the report is based on the funding figures and methodology for 2010-11. When will the school produce figures for 2011-12?
  • How do we know the school will be better funded when we don’t know details of the future academy funding changes planned by the Government?
  • How can the school ensure that it is able to access support services of a similar quality to those provided by the local authority, given that the private market for such services is undeveloped?
  • How can the school be sure that, in an undeveloped market with few providers locally, we won’t be tied in to a poor deal with one provider?
  • How long will any fixed price contracts with a service supplier last and what guarantee will there be against future price rises after any loss-leading period is over?
  • How can the school make any assumptions about future funding as an academy when changes to the LACSEG mechanism are imminent but unspecified?
  • Is there a business plan that has been put together by the head and governing body, to show how the finances will be affected in the short, medium and long term?
  • How will the DfE or YPLA be able to give the school expert advice when they need it, given that such advice should be based on local knowledge, which those organisations do not have?
  • With the DfE administrative budget being cut by a third, how can the school be sure of the level of support we will need when that support will be provided centrally instead of through the local authority?
  • Will you, in the interests of openness and transparency, publicly publish your Governing Body minutes and all documentation on your consideration of and decision regarding academy status?

Please see below my response to the document Potential Academy Conversion & Financial Analysis:

1.6 states that Tidemill School has established significant independence from the LA, and its commercial independence would result in significant financial gain on conversion. In fact this is an exaggeration, the school has only a few private contracts and still relies heavily on the LA.

The school’s main argument for becoming an Academy is that it will gain more money to enhance provision in the school, and protect it from cuts and job losses. In fact a number of academies are already making cuts, and more are expected to follow.

However 1.7 contradicts this, noting that government policy is that all schools are funded on the same basis. Predictions of financial gain should be treated with caution.

4.4 says that the government will not recoup £141.221 from Lewisham suggesting that there will be no impact on other schools in Lewisham of Tidemill converting. In fact the DfE have now cut this sum for local authorities, and is about to cut it for academies. There will therefore be an impact on other schools, and Tidemill will also receive considerably less money in its LACSEG grant.

6.1 says that the government is clear that becoming an academy should not bring about financial advantage or disadvantage to a school. However funds to support the early conversions have meant that LA’s have had 10% top sliced off their budgets to pay for this. This paragraph mentions “other freedoms” but does not qualify what these are.

6.3 Academies are also about to lose the funds referred to in 4.4, which means the funds left to pay for services will be much reduced. It must also be stressed that any additional funds gained by early conversion are a one off payment and Governors must consider the long term funding rather than the short-term gain before converting.

6.9 please note that the academy will not be reimbursed for insurance to cover staff supply or vehicle insurance. It is not clear if this was accounted for.

7.6.2 in provision for SEN pupils it states “there is no simple way to put a definitive value on the loss of economies of scale ”, and it is “difficult to predict need from year to year”. An estimate of around 10% additional costs may be prudent in…a volatile budget area”. This is a powerful case for remaining within the local authority.

7.6.4 makes a clear case for additional support not being spent on behavior management. It is unclear in the document why this is the case and I don’t see how such an assumption can be defended, particularly in the light of the issues raised in 7.6.2

7.12.1 says that £23,656 (2010 to 2011 figures) non-devolved funds will be made available to the trust then later it warns that this will be cut (see Table 3) This has actually happened. A proportional sum must be subtracted from the £177,607 sum quoted for 2011 to 2012.

7.14 says that the school has established a Family Liaison Officer role that will include Education Welfare Functions. It has allocated an additional allowance of £3000 for this but this is not clear if this includes sufficient training & skills in the new role.

7.20 says employment costs would be typically more that the sum provided in LACSEG grants, and that the Trust would have to decide how to fund this. The need for occupational health should not be limited by budget constraints.

The document does not specify costs for:
8.10 Wauton Samuel management information systems
8.14 School Meals
8.15 School Cleaning (shared with Deptford Lounge)
8.16 Property Maintenance (will be shared with Deptford lounge)
8.18 Parkwood Leisure
9.2 Teacher Supply Insurance
10.3 ICT maintenance
10.4 VLE

13.9 says that a copy has been sent to Lewisham so they can respond, what was Lewisham’s response?

To conclude: the figure for the cost of services to the school is only an estimate (paragraph 1.4), which may be based on the perceived efficiency of the existing relationship between the school and private providers (see paragraph 1.6).
However the future cost of services is uncertain, due to uncertainty about the future profile of need in a given school as well as the uncertainty about being able to access value for money services in an undeveloped private market. Private providers may well offer tempting “loss leader” deals, but will individual school governing bodies have the financial expertise to spot significant penalty clauses? We know from the BSF experience that due to small print clauses private providers have been able to levy huge charges for “services” such as replacing a plug. Similarly, the “current” spending details given in Section 4 relate to 2010-11, and these figures cannot be relied on as the document itself acknowledges (paragraph 4.3).

The schools vague argument for freedom seems to be a fallacy, in fact the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, spoke recently to delegates at the NAHT Annual Conference stating “that all schools will benefit from greater autonomy through the new national curriculum review, which will make more curriculum time available for teachers and heads to use as they think best”. Mr Gove also says in the same address “Academies have to be in a partnership and helping another school”. At no point has this or any other document produced by the school addressed this issue.

In the EIA document it says “This policy would affect the whole school community: parents and careers pupils; staff and governors”, this statement clearly ignores the impact of the conversion on the wider community.

To quote the World Architecture News last month:
“Tidemill Primary School in the London Borough of Lewisham is the result of a visionary concept to increase the space and resources available to new schools by sharing their facilities with the wider community, and demonstrates how innovative thinking can make public spending go further in difficult times. Tidemill School will benefit from combining resources with the Deptford Lounge – a new state-of-the-art district library that will provide a whole range of community facilities.”

Given that Lewisham Council and the School have already spent long hours investing in the concept and seeing the materialization of the joint venture. It seems unethical and irresponsible of the school to lurch into the future, ignoring this history by going it alone without including the community.

It couldn’t be argued that the document settles the case in favor of academy conversion. I have not been personally convinced that becoming an academy will be an advantage for the school. At no point in this consultation has the school explained how this will improve the education of our children.

Given the irreversibility of the decision to convert to an academy I plead again to the governing body “to make a decision with your eyes wide open”. The governing body has a duty of care to answer all the questions of parents and the community, address all the points above with ease and confidence. Only by proper consultation can you leave no doubt before any vote is taken.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely
Leila Galloway

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