I have written many times to the Secretary of State for Department for Education Michael Gove on the matter of unintended consequences of Academy schools and their freedom to set school roll numbers.
I have expressed careful and considered concern about the academisation
process in the past and the way that it can damage the local education
system if the problems it causes are not properly mitigated.
I have stopped Mr Gove in the lobby and highlighted the simple concerns of one school draining children from another because of its superior resources.
The written and verbal answers have left me believing either the Secretary of State does not understand the simple issue or is deliberately obfuscating to avoid answering a troublesome question. A question which undermines his very ambitious ideological ideas.
A school in my constituency has become an academy, and has received substantial private funding from a wealthy benefactor. It has also facilitated
a significant rising number of pupils enrolling. This has put unfair pressures on other schools to maintain their current rolls and through payment per pupil, their existing funding.
Michael Gove believes that education should be subject to market forces and failing schools be subject to the rigours of the market.
As Secretary of State he has introduced a funding arrangement by which schools with falling enrolments receive falling amounts of funding and this effectively ensures a downward spiral in some instances.
The pupil premium was supposed to offset this but changes to SEN and other deprivation based funding has struggled by the failure to increase the numbers of children free school meals which trigger the premium.
I have worked hard locally with Lancashire County Council and Hyndburn Borough Council to target parents with child entitlements to free school meals but a data protection barrier and culture resistance leave many eligible children not taking up free school meals.
Falling rolls, leading to falling funding, leading to potentially serious problems for the school. It has been tiresome writing and speaking to Mr Gove, the responses have always been short, irrelevant and in my view, lacking care.
Tackling a different tack to this problem I received on the 2nd June I received a far more comprehensive letter recognising the problems and and attempting to answer the questions from the Education Minister David Laws. It announced some measures which the Mr Laws thinks will address the concerns of Hyndburn secondary schools. I have to say they still miss the point; Government policies are damaging a good and popular school.
David Laws states in his letter that they “would not support schools which have falling rolls because they are unpopular” – the inference there being that schools rolls are simply the product of market failure. It still refuses to accept the obvious that a well funded Academy will be attract parents over and above added academic value.
There is nothing wrong with a school receiving an injection of capital. There is a problem when it has negative consequences for other schools and crucially for the children attending that school. Those children are as equal and and important as those that go to a well funded academy.