Lancashire’s schools used to be a mostly academy-free zone. The previous Labour-led administration at County Hall were strongly against them, and even devised a cunning plan to employ if the government ordered them to ‘academise’ every school in the county. This would involve establishing a wholly-owned but technically arms-length company to act as an ‘academy chain in name only’.
How things change. It’s likely that, by the end of 2018, there will be no more local authority controlled mainstream secondary schools in the Lancaster district. In the last 12 months, Heysham High has been taken over by Star Academies (prop. Tauheedul in Blackburn), Carnforth High has been taken over by the Bay Education Trust (prop. Ripley St Thomas) and now the last two, Morecambe High and Central Lancaster High, seem likely to join the Bay Education Trust also.
In Morecambe’s case, this is happening against its will – if you do badly in an Ofsted inspection, you must suffer – but Central’s bid for conversion, which has not yet been confirmed, is voluntary, led by the head and (most of) the governors. An extraordinary meeting of the governing body on Wednesday 21 November will make the final decision, taking the views of parents, teachers and the local community into account.
In theory. Looking at the consultation documents, in particular the formal letter sent to parents by the head on 5 October, subtext predicts a strong majority in favour of conversion. Why? Naturally the letter is careful not to show any bias on the part of its author: ‘Working together […] will enable teachers to share resources and training […]; we hope to make all three of the strong schools in the Trust even better!’ And the response form is a masterpiece of even-handed data gathering, as parents are asked to choose from options 1, 2 and 3:
‘Option 1 – I have a number of comments I would personally like to make and I attach a letter for consideration of the Governing Body.’
‘Option 2 – I would like to know more about the proposals and would be interested in attending a short meeting on 17th October with other parents to ask further questions for clarification.’
‘Option 3 – I am quite happy with the proposals and I don’t need more information.’
In other words, if you just tick the box, we’ll leave you alone; but if you don’t share our vision, you need to tell us WHY, and we want DETAILS, and we want to hear from you PERSONALLY. And if you want to just say you aren’t happy – well, that’s not on the list.