Facts about forced academisation and the White Paper
There has been a lot of noise generated about the White Paper to the extent that most teachers think that it is only about forced academisation, that forced academisation is an entirely new policy and that all schools will be forced to be academies in a short space of time – some think September 2017.
None of that is correct. There are other things in the White Paper, some new policy but mostly rehashing or extending existing policy or manifesto commitments.
Forced academisation is not new. Schools have been forced into academisation since the Academies Act in 2010, by whatever means the Government has had at its disposal:
early adopters were bribed with financial incentives;
DfE officials cold called schools to press school leaders and governors to academise;
funding pressures have been exerted on local authorities to encourage them to support academisation;
regional school commissioners were appointed with a remit to broker academies;
and Ofsted outcomes have been used to pressurise schools to convert.
Most recently, the Education and Adoption Act 2016 removed the requirement on the Secretary of State to consult with governors and parents about academy conversion, giving her the duty to issue an academy order directly to any school deemed by Ofsted to be inadequate and to intervene in schools which were deemed to be ‘coasting’.
The new element in the White Paper is the intention for all schools to convert to academy status by 2020. Schools that don’t have a plan for conversion by 2020 will be forced into academies by 2022. Even this is not entirely new. It was announced by David Cameron in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference last October, long before the Chancellor announced it in the budget statement.
The Government does not currently have the legislative power to force all schools to convert to academy status. New legislation will have to be brought before Parliament. The timetable for this is unclear and it is believed that it may be postponed, due to the considerable opposition, most significantly from within the Conservative ranks from Conservative councillors and backbench MPs who believe this is a step too far, running counter to localism and choice, which they assert is at the heart of conservatism. We may only have a better idea of any timetable for the legislation in the Queen’s Speech on 18th May. I have already met with the Secretary of State on the White Paper and secured a meeting with DfE Officials to go through its provisions in more detail and that may also provide an insight into timescales for any legislation.
If the Government is to be able to force all schools to be academies it will have to get legislation through Parliament and backbenchers could prevent this. This presents a good organising opportunity to oppose the forced academisation of all schools. NASUWT has already been engaged in lobbying and has had discussions with the Labour Shadow. Labour is seeking to build a cross party alliance on these issues, as the best chance of stopping the legislation is by Conservative backbenchers voting against it.
It is now being widely stated by commentators that because the Government does not have the legislation in place, George Osborne’s announcement in the budget was deliberately designed to panic schools into jumping for academy status in the belief that they would be pushed if they didn’t.
NASUWT Organising on academy status
On Saturday a very successful NASUWT Conference was held for primary teachers and school leaders which focused on the White Paper , particularly forced academisation and on assessment issues.
Following this Conference information will be put out more generally to members and regional briefings are being planned for workplace reps.
As over 70% of all secondary schools are now academies, it is primary schools who are likely to feel the most vulnerable on the issue of forced academisation, which is why they were the target audience for the Conference, as only 1 in 5 primary schools are academies and many may not even have thought about it before.
The messages at the Conference were:
unless you are a school deemed inadequate by Ofsted you cannot be forced to become an academy;
its important that headteachers and governors do not panic and make rushed decisions about conversion;
it would be advisable, however, to be thinking carefully now about schools with which they are working or with which they may want to work, and about federations and trusts – not because of academisation but because when the new funding formula currently the subject of consultation comes into force there will be winners and losers and the ability of many primary schools to remain as standalone entities, even within a local authority, is likely to be very limited and to avoid closure and benefit from the economies of scalepartnering with other schools may be the best option.the NASUWT prepared a briefing on funding which was sent out to you and is on the website. We have responded to the first stage of the consultation and are now waiting for the second stage to be issued by Government.
It was also emphasised at the Conference the strategy the NASUWT had been pursuing on academisation:
where governors propose academisation or where an academy order is issued, the NASUWT will meet with members to discuss the implications;
where members are willing to make a stand to oppose academisation, the National Executive Member will approach the National Action Committee, through the General Secretary, for a ballot for action. The ballot is on the change of employer and implications for conditions of service. It is illegal to seek to ballot on the principle of opposing academisation. Trade disputes can only be lodged and ballots conducted on the basis of impact on terms and conditions not on Government policy. The claims and propaganda circulating that the NUT will be balloting to oppose forced academisation are completely inaccurate. The NUT is planning to ballot on national terms and conditions - the NASUWT already has a trade dispute with the Secretary of State on national terms and conditions and a current ballot and has no need to conduct a further ballot.
The benefits of the ballot are:
it may change the mind of governors about moving to academisation;
it may enable a change of sponsor to be secured if there are concerns about the sponsor;
it will send out a strong signal about the strength of feeling about academisation, putting us in a strong position to negotiate on terms and conditions should conversion take place.
The NASUWT has been using this strategy successfully since 2011 and has either stopped conversion or been able to secure protections for members on transfer.
It may be more difficult to stop conversion if an academy order has been issued but the ballot is nevertheless important to aid negotiation on transfer and terms and conditions.
Where members do not wish to oppose conversion and do not wish to ballot, then every effort must be made to enter into negotiations on the TUPE transfer (we are about to issue updated briefing materials on this to support workplace reps and local negotiators) and securing the terms and conditions of members.
Academies are now in a number of areas a large part of the education landscape and there may be many more teachers and parents who do not hold the same concerns about academisation as when the Academies Act was first introduced. However it is still important to organise around this for the longer term protection of members.
Members do need to be reassured, however, that whatever the outcome, the NASUWT will support them fully and that the Union has had great success in academies in defending the interests of members and maintaining and in some cases improving upon the provisions of the STPCD.
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