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Surrey Academy Shock

November 7, 2010 6:00 AM
Diana Smith

"The details available are still sketchy and the gains for schools still unclear" says County Councillor Diana Smith

Stories suggesting all Surrey schools were on their way to becoming Academies appeared in national newspapers on 30th September. This was fortunate for local MP Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, as the Conservative party conference was due to start three days later, and even here in his home county of Surrey just one school was ready to become an Academy.

So how did it happen? According to Lib Dem County Councillor Diana Smith (Knaphill, Woking), a week earlier the council had sent a paper to Primary School Heads called 'Academies: A threat or an opportunity? Proposal to create a Surrey way forward.' But School Governors and Councillors had no warning of these headlines, let alone parents. Nothing has been formally decided. The plan was simply discussed between Secondary Head Teachers and the council during the summer.

Diana Smith said: "For Surrey, the problem is that if even a small proportion schools become Academies, taking funding away from the LEA as they go, it will be a disaster for those left behind. Back in July councillors were told that if the forty schools that have expressed interest all go, that might mean, for example, insufficient funds to continue behaviour support services."

"However the thought was that if all Surrey schools became Academies and at the same time Surrey set up a 'Surrey Learning Trust', to make sure services go on being provided and schools were able to work together, the Government might make it worthwhile for schools to co-operate."

"It is difficult to say what is wrong with Academies with any precision, because the details available are still sketchy and the gains for schools still unclear", Diana concluded.

Surrey Liberal Democrats are deeply concerned about how this outline scheme would work in practice:

  • What about school place planning? The Council will need to retain effective 'strategic oversight' of school places funded by public money, and the means and power to act as necessary to ensure enough school places are available.
  • Will Surrey be able to give needed support to all state funded schools as part of monitoring the quality of provision, in particular in terms of work with disadvantaged pupils? For example, improvement of outcomes for children excluded from school needs to be effectively taken forward and this needs collective action from schools.
  • Although selection of pupils by ability is not foreseen as an option for Academies, every school would become its own admissions authority. Even with a coordinated admissions system, the process could be made more complicated and potentially unfair.