(Another) Open Letter to Michael Gove

Dear Mr Gove,

I know you’re getting a lot of open letters these days, but I do hope that you will read and pay attention to them. Maybe it would be a good idea to consider why so many people are upset.

I am writing to express my dismay at the high-handed and autocratic measures that Norfolk County Council is taking to force our boys’ school, Cavell Primary and Nursery School, to become an academy. Yes, the school is in special measures. Yes, it is government policy that schools in special measures should become academies to bring about improvement. However, in this case the school had opted to enter into a cooperative trust with other local schools, who were already working together strongly to share good practice and for the benefit of all schools involved. This approach was favoured by the school, the governors and the parents, who expressed overwhelming support for the cooperative trust.

Therefore, the County Council first froze the spending power of the governors and then removed them altogether so that they could impose an Interim Executive Board. This Board is made up of three members, with NO parent representative and NO staff representative. Indeed two of the members are former employees of the Council and the other still works for them. This makes it clear that they have been brought in solely to enforce the will of the Council in direct opposition to that of parents, staff and the local community.

Mr Gove, according to the Surrey Mirror, you personally assured head teachers at a meeting at Tadworth Primary School that “they would not be forced to take their schools down the academy route, regardless of performance.”

Asked afterwards if he wants more schools to convert, he told the Mirror: “It is horses for courses. The whole point is academies are there to help schools and help heads do more.

“The important thing is not to force a ‘one size fits all’,” he added. “If more schools want to become academies that is great, if under-performing schools need the help of academies to help them, that is great.” Source: This Is Surrey Today

Well, that’s nice. But it doesn’t exactly seem to be what is happening here, does it?

In the interview from 2011 replayed on Anglia News last night, you said that:

The importance of the academies movement is that it puts teachers and heads back in charge, rather than bureaucrats dictating what happens in the classroom.

Again, this would appear to be the direct opposite of what is going on here. The teachers and heads want the cooperative trust. The bureaucrats want the academy.

If the council had truly lost faith in the school leadership team, they would have removed them when the school first went into special measures. They did not. Ofsted have approved the existing improvement plan and their latest inspection was carried out this week, with their report due to be published within a fortnight. By removing the governors, the council have attempted to remove our voice as parents. This is why we are having to find other ways of making ourselves heard. This is why I am writing to you directly.

I am not going to get into the rights and wrongs of academies. What I do know is that this is not the right approach for this school and this situation. If, as you said yourself, one size does not fit all, why is the council behaving in this way? What pressure is being put on them by the Department for Education, and thus ultimately by you? This seems to be an entirely politically and ideologically motivated attempt to bully a school into accepting a pre-ordained solution to its problems. But it’s not what we want. It is undemocratic and unjust and our children’s education is likely to suffer as a result.

Becoming an academy in this situation would be playing Russian roulette with our children’s future. We would have no say in the sponsor and there is a huge risk that the innovative and award-winning work that the school is currently doing would be lost. We fully support the head teacher and former governors who have the children’s best interests at heart. I am far from convinced that anyone coming in from the outside would care about them in the same way.

But above all, I am appalled by the bullying. I am outraged by the underhanded way this has been dealt with and the fact that this was all done over half term so that we as parents first learnt about it from the local press. I am livid about the complete disregard for the wishes of parents and constituents.

Mr Gove, if you meant what you said above, take action to stop the forced academisation of what is, despite its problems with a difficult catchment area, a GOOD school. Take action to allow the school to continue its good work. Take action to allow the creation of a cooperative trust, which has been proven to achieve by far the best results in school improvement. Take action to restore the governors and our parental representation. Take action to prove that we are in fact living in a democracy and not some kafkaesque nightmare!

Yours sincerely,

Rachel Ward

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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15 Responses to (Another) Open Letter to Michael Gove

  1. A splendidly reasoned letter. My latest take on the DfE ‘dictatorship’ is that MPs are supposed to be bound by the House of Commons code of conduct that is supposed to oblige them to the needs of the people as a priority, not dismissable matter.

  2. Helen Salmon says:

    Fair minded people all over the country support your view. Where is local accountability here. Seems like Norfolk do the governments bidding and ride roughshod over your rights.

  3. njg says:

    Let’s not forget that the Secretary of State, whomever may be filling that role at any time, was handed these draconian rights by the Blair government.

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  11. CT says:

    Reblogged this on Colin thinks ….. and commented:
    An all-too-familiar story: bullying and the opposite of democracy. Shameful.

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