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Schools wrestle with academy option
11:00am Monday 15th October 2012 in News
Schools in Bradford are being ‘pressured’ into becoming academies by the Government for failing to meet targets, the district’s education chief and teaching unions have warned. Telegraph & Argus reporter James Rush examines the issue.
The Department for Education has plans for every primary school in England in special measures or given a notice to improve by Ofsted to become a sponsored academy.
But Councillor Ralph Berry, Bradford Council’s executive member for children’s services, has said schools which were not in special measures were still being targeted by the Department for Education to convert into academies.
He said the announcement of Ryecroft Primary converting into an academy, sponsored by the Northern Education Trust, was an example where the Government had put pressure on the school for the conversion to take place, despite its “good” and “rapidly improving” Ofsted report in 2010. He said it had been pinpointed for change by the Government after failing to meet Key Stage Two targets.
Coun Berry said: “They have got these brokers which come to visit them by the DfE who are paid by results for the numbers they convert to academies.
“They get rung up and get visited and they get told various things.”
Coun Berry said he did not believe turning schools into academies was the only route to improvement.
He said: “What they are doing is picking up the schools that have just come off the bottom.
“We have turned around a number of schools with local authority support that have rocketed up – and there are some that have gone down the academy route.
“My fundamental position is that school improvement can happen under a number of models.”
Ian Murch, Bradford spokesman for the National Union of Teachers, also said schools, including Ryecroft, were being pressured to change by brokers paid by the Government.
He said: “What they are doing doesn’t have the force of law in the sense that they can’t actually make them become academies, but they go in and make appointments with chairs of governors and teachers and they say ‘the only way forward for this school to improve its results is to become an academy as part of a chain of academies – do you agree?’. And if a school says ‘no’ they will continue to put pressure on them for a while, but eventually they will give up.
“Schools in Bradford have contacted us having been put into this position. Some have refused and some have accepted.”
Pam Milner, district spokesman for the NASUWT, said: “I think it is morally wrong – schools should be free to make their own choices as to where they should be, and the local authority can provide services to schools to help them improve.
“Ryecroft is not a failing school but the Government has got this measure in place that if it’s not meeting targets then it can be forced to become an academy.”
Ryecroft head teacher Jayne Clarke said: “Ryecroft is far from being a failing school and has a “good with outstanding for leadership and management” with Ofsted.
“For 2012 our attendance figures equal national benchmarks and are higher than the Bradford average.
“Our Key Stage Two levels progress in English at 95.2 per cent are higher than Bradford’s by 4.2 per cent and higher than national by 6.2 per cent.
“In maths we are just one per cent below Bradford and nationally.
“We are very positive about the benefits of working with Northern Education Trust and the governing body considered all of our options with the utmost care, setting out with one purpose – to sustain our high aspirations and high achievement for all children.”
Liz Davison, head teacher at St Oswalds Primary, in Great Horton, said the voluntary-aided school was due to convert to an academy next month, after the Government approached the local authority and the Diocese of Bradford.
A DfE spokesman said: “All schools can become academies and many governing bodies have decided to take advantage of the freedoms to create the right conditions for success in their schools.”