Education and Adoption Bill

Written evidence submitted by Richard Harris (EAB 31)


The Bill contradicts the evidence that Local Authority Maintained Schools cannot improve without being forced to become an academy and it also contradicts the DfEs own evidence that , "there is no conclusive evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools." I aim to show that some evidence that is quoted for the support of academisation does not compare like with like. I will also use local evidence of the failure of academies to improve, even to get a poorer Ofsted report then their predecessor schools and, by contrast, the success of maintained schools to improve as maintained schools. There is an implication in the reasoning behind the Bill that Local Authorities no longer have the capacity to help schools. I will show that Ofsted Reports indicate otherwise.

Richard Harris

1. I am a former City Councillor and Cabinet Member for Education and currently a governor of both a maintained secondary school and a maintained primary school. I also chair the Southampton Schools Forum and the Southampton Admissions Forum.

2. One common narrative that must be addressed and changed is the reference to Local Authority "Control". Schools are "maintained" but have not been controlled since the 1988 Education Act which brought in Local Management of Schools. Every month I met with the senior inspector to look at the situation in each school and she and I knew our schools well, however, the main drivers to any improvement were the school leaders and governors supported by the advisory service of the L.A. Politicians and journalists alike must stop using the term "Local Authority Control" and particularly with a negative connotation.

3. Concerning the House of Commons Education Select Committee Report, 2015 I will quote some key conclusions. "There is a complex relationship between attainment, autonomy, collaboration and accountability. Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change". "There is at present no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools". "Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school. Both academies and state maintained schools have a role to play in system-wide improvements….".

4. The same report raises concerns about the transparency of academy agreements and academy information. They are by any definition state funded private schools with a board of director and no local democratic accountability – as parents find out when complaints to local councillors have to be forwarded to the academy directors or even the DfE direct. For a government committed to localisation and devolvement of democratic functions to suggest a system of enforced academisation without consultation and contrary to the wishes of parents, governors and the local community is incredible, especially when the evidence contradicts the educational reasoning given by the Government.

5. Local evidence would support my above arguments. Just outside Southampton, along the Waterside, Testwood Secondary School, which was Ofsted rated "Needing Improvement", following conversion to academy status was Ofsted rated in "Special Measures". Hardley School which was rated "Good" became New Forest Academy under the AET Academy Trust and subsequently went into "Special Measures". I quote from an Ofsted HMI follow up visit which is on the school website. "Hampshire local education authority services are appropriately well regarded in the academy and their support for various aspects of its work, including in foundation subjects, will continue". Between these two schools is Applemore Secondary School, still a local authority maintained school and rated "Good". Academisation is not the answer and local authority support is still available and welcomed by HMI.

6. Similar evidence is available in Southampton where I am a governor. Oasis Academy Trust have been running two secondary schools for 8 years and both are still in the category "Needing Improvement". However Cantell School, where I am a governor, which is still a maintained school, in the same period, has gone from "Special Measures" to solidly "Good". I have more recently joined the governors of Moorlands Primary School which was "Needing Improvement". It too is now solidly "Good" and the Ofsted report refers to the support of the local authority.

7. Academisation, especially enforced, is not the answer. What evidence does support is it is the quality of leadership and teaching which makes a difference not the structure of the school. I quote from one of the maintained school Ofsted reports, "The headteacher sets high expectations for staff and pupils. She leads a strong team of ambitious teachers who seek to provide the best for every pupil. They are creating a school that is a lively, caring place where learning is exciting and stimulating. Consequently, teaching has improved rapidly, pupils make good progress and they behave well." What should concern the Secretary of State is the shortage of teachers and teachers wanting to be headteachers, not enforcing structural change.

8. Finally I would point the Committee to research carried out by Warwick Mansell and published by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust in February 2015. He pointed out that the evidence presented by the government on the apparent success of academies was not comparing like with like, but when you compared maintained schools with academies starting on the same base line then the maintained schools outperformed the academies. He sums this up thus, "But if statistical evidence on an area absolutely central to the current political debate about education is being made to say the opposite of what a reasonable person might think the data actually tell us, acknowledging the need to compare like with like, we have serious problems. Is evidence being made to fit policy, rather than vice-versa?"

9 Put briefly the rhetoric which supports this bill on academisation is not backed up by evidence, indeed the evidence contradicts the rhetoric. Enforced academisation should not take place as it does not achieve what is claimed and is anti democratic.

July 2015

Prepared 15th July 2015