Moulsecoomb Primary is a small close-knit school in East Brighton that having recieved an "Inadequate" OFSTED report earlier in the year was issued a Forced Academy Notice by the Regional Schools Commissioner.
The OFSTED Report.
The outcome of the OFSTED report which brought all this about is a hotly contested matter in itself. OFSTED rulings are a blunt "one size fits all" instrument that takes no account of challenges that certain schools face. Moulsecoomb itself is an area with above average social deprivation and the school has a far higher number of pupils elegible for school meals, special educational needs and with English as a second langauge.
The school has had a difficult time and has been working hard to improve standards over the last couple of years despite facing savage government cuts to their funding. The current head has worked hard with staff and the local authority and demonstrable improvements continue to be made.
Sadly, the OFSTED ruling of "Inadequate" has meant that under the Academies Act 2010 the government has bound itself to handing over any such schools from the local authority to a Mult-Academy Trust (MAT).
Forced Academy Notice
Academisation has been hugely contraversial for many reasons. Financial mismanagement, unaccountability to local communities, nepotism, dodgy tendering processes and frequent attacks on the terms and conditions of staff have not won the general public over.
Furthermore, academy chains do not recieve any more funding than local authority schools. The Education Funding Agency, the Commons Public Accounts Committee and Department for Education's own figures have all pointed to an educational experiment that has consistently failed to drive up standards or provide any sort of financial stability - the very purposes under which the act was sold.
To Be Handed Over To Who?
A MAT attached to the University of Brighton were the first on the scene but perhaps arguably due to local opposition backed out. Next in line to run the school was Step Academies who were met at the school gates by protesting parents and decided too that the gig was not for them.
New Horizon Academy Trust & The Laurels, Worthing
The third bite of the apple has been had by New Horizon Academy Trust (NHAT). NAHT recently had a school taken off of them in Worthing (The Laurels) for the fine mess they made there which resulted in another MAT being instructed to go in and sort it out. This was evidently not possible under it's current leadership so NAHT were given their marching orders.
The MAT that took the Laurels off of NHAT reported the state of the school as they took it over; financial reports were absent, the budget was "out of control" and staff were leaving quicker than they could be replaced. Anecdotally we understand that during that time the school boiler broke down and instead of fixing it instructed pupils to wear their coats in the classroom.
A post-academisation OFSTED report relegated the school from "Good" to "Requires Improvement". An abject failure on every level.
NHAT's recent annual report made it clear that they need to "expand" into another primary school to help pay for the one school they have been left with (that has yet to recieve an OFSTED visit). Throwing Moulsecoomb Primary into their failed trust knowing their history and current state is indefendable.
It is possible however that NHAT might be getting cold feet too as community protests have continued. A chummy letter sent to staff by NAHT was met with anger and a planned visit to the school by the trust this week to sweet-talk staff was cancelled with only a few days' notice. A different recent letter to parents explained cautiously that due diligence checks have yet to be completed... perhaps leaving the back-door ajar for a dignified retreat?
Local Communuties' Response
The community has been right behind the Hands Off Moulsecoomb Primary School from the offset. Upon the academy order being issued an open meeting drew hundreds of members of the community, as did a march through Brighton, an online petition and other protests.
Parents of pupils at the school were balloted by Brighton & Hove Council as to whether or not they wanted their school handed over to a MAT who returned a solid 97% vote for not handing the school over to a MAT.
Brighton & Hove City Council who have been providing extra support and financial help to the school are similarly worried and against the forced academy notice.
Statistics show that academies do not perform better than local authority schools. Local councillors, MPs, school staff, pupils, ex-pupils, parents, community leaders, unions and this trades council are all opposed to handing the school over to an undemocratic beaurocracy.
Yet the Department For Education still insist on carrying it out regardless - so much for democracy or local people having their say!
The three unions representing staff at Moulsecoomb Primary are united in their opposition to handing the school over to a MAT. The National Education Union (NEU) representing teaching staff as well as UNISON and GMB habe all pledged to stand and fight alongside the school and parents - as have this Trades Council.
The NEU and GMB will be taking strike action on Thursday 21st November as all other means of challenging this process have fallen on deaf ears. An invite has been extended to the community to join them at the school gates from 7am for a huge show of local strength.
UNISON are awaiting the result of their ballot and are expecting a similarly overwhelming mandate. Further strike dates involving all three unions are currently being planned howevr all unions have agreed to suspend strike action if the NAHT do the decent thing and walk away.
Each day that passes without a MAT being prepared to take the school brings the possibility of a further OFSTED visit closer. A second visit that acknowledges the ongoing improvements (such as this years much improved SAT results) will put further pressure on bigwig Gavin Williamson MP to revoke the order.
The other possibility is a new government being formed in the next few weeks that has declared to end the rotten academisation project for good.
"Everybody knows that the academy idea has failed and is dead in the water. To hand over a popular, working class local community school, with the challenges it has, to a deomonstrably incapable MAT is simply an act of war on that community. Parents won't stand for it, councillors won't stand for it, staff won't stand for, pupils won't stand for it - and neither will we. It's a disgraceful affair."
Matt Webb - UNISON Education Convenor and General Secretary of Brighton Hove & District Trades Council.
"Staff and parents know what is best for their children and do not believe that the school is inadequate. After almost a decade, there is no evidence that shows that forcing schools to become academies improves results. On the contrary, evidence shows that struggling schools improve faster if they remain in the local authority.”
Craig Arden - NEU Regional Officer
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