At the point of exercising the, much vaunted, “Parental Choice” in school selection we opted for a local school that our son could walk to.  Two schools met that criteria.  Both held open evenings.

The first was alienating and off-putting.  Learning technology was very much centre stage.The school’s pitch was how they would prepare our son for an insecure Labour force and global competition.  Hardly inspiring stuff.  Effectively their USP was:”We will prepare your child as cannon fodder for an increasingly harsh model of capitalism”. The second  school “pitch” was more rounded, child-centred and altogether more inspiring. We selected (fell for?) the latter’s marketing strategy.

Our son was due to start school in the Autumn.Before he starts the school becomes an Academy. I don’t believe there was any parental consultation or, perhaps, just not with “prospective” parents.  However it did not involve a sponsor so we were not too disturbed at the prospect.  We imagined that the school had felt compelled to make a pragmatic choice to secure funding for the school.

Unfortunately that was not to be the end of the tale. In circumstances ,not clear to me, the head teacher left during  the 13/14 Academic year.  Interim arrangements were made.This leadership team was in place for the next Ofsted inspection. The school was then rated “inadequate” which allows a sponsor to be imposed.  For more on this simply search “forced academies” you will find lots of articles dating back 5 and more years.

So who was our Knight in Shining Armour?  The Charitable Arm of a multi-national construction company. Interserve Plc.  Makes sense. I have long lamented the deficiency of expertise, in teaching, which could be readily remedied with some added expertise from the academic discipline of construction. I have lost count of the number of times I have echoed the refrain “oh if only we had access to the skills and expertise of a multi-billion dollar company with interests in  construction and facilities management”. Well now we do.

So what is in it for them?

Here is where it gets interesting.  Direct quote from their financial statement. “The assets ,liabilities and operations of Crawshaw Academy”  were acquired ” from Crawshaw Academy Trust for £nil consideration on 1st September 2014″  That is right. zero, nada, nothing.

Never mind, surely the entrepreneurial, risk taking private sector will energise the moribund state run school? Well not so much of the risk-taking. The liability of the Trustees to any losses is limited to £10.  Seems that , yet again, the state are losing the assets but retaining the risk. This is one type of “nationalisation” that  seems to be totally acceptable to the privatising Tory government.

It is made clear that “transactions may take place with organisations in which the trustee has an interest”.The articles of association (6.2) also set out  restrictions on profit making but sets out a number of ways that members of the company can “benefit” presumably financially. In the Master funding agreement clause 4.27 makes it clear that any disposal of assets/free hold land must have the permission of the secretary of state. Clause 4.30 cries out for more scrutiny. This paragraph set out the conditions on whether or not any assets could be sold and where the proceeds can go.

Parental Involvement.  In the Articles of Association at clause 53. “There shall be a minimum of two Parent Directors unless there are local governing bodies which include at least two parent members”.   I have checked the governance structure on the school website and there is a Local Advisory Board which provides for 3 parent members.  I go to check the Local Advisory Board. There is a link entitled Election of Parent Members to the Local Advisory Board.  I click on that.  “The Local Advisory Board is currently suspended”. I can find a new body which seems to have just one Parent, as the Chair. Minutes of February 2016 suggest another body is to be established and this will have two parent governors allocated (voted for?) . I will watch with interest.

Curriculum and length of school year are now in the hands of the Trust.  Teachers pay and conditions are to be determined by the Trust.  Clause 2A in the supplementary agreement sets out that the Trust may “employ anyone it believes is suitably qualified or otherwise eligible to plan and prepare lessons and courses for pupils,  teach pupils and assess and report on pupils’ development progress and attainment”. So not required to employ qualified teachers.

Not to worry there must be a reasonable process for terminating the agreement if certain standards are not met. Indeed there is. Clause 5a in the Supplementary Funding agreement. “Either party may give at least 7 Academy Financial Years notice to terminate this agreement”. Longer than the life of a Parliament.

When checking this site previously I found copies of 5 letters detailing payments of £500 per day,for 1 days work a month, to be paid to the “employer” of a number of the governors. £2500 a month.  I can’t locate these letters on the current website but I have copies which I will revisit and I will “follow the money”.

All of this information is in the public domain. I have picked out the salient points, for me, but I am guessing an accountant could do a better job of interrogating the financial statements.  A lawyer would also better decode the meaning of the numerous documents setting out governance arrangements.

Feel free to have a look:

I should point out that the teachers have my wholehearted support and I have not found them deficient in my dealings with the school. My worry is as much for teachers’ professional status, pay and conditions, as it is for my children.

Fast forward to 2016. All schools are to have forced Academy Status.  Finally laying bare the farce that is “parental choice”.