Why the consultation group fell apart

At the end of last week, Darell’s consultation group fell apart when four parents resigned. Love Darell asked them why…

Katy, mother of children in Years 2 and 3:

I asked to be involved with the consultation because I was surprised that a proposal had been made which would mean more change for the school, increasing the workload to staff and disrupting our children’s education. I wanted to make sure I was well-informed so that I could make a judgement about whether the changes would be worth it.

I believe that consultation should begin early, that there must be sufficient reasons given with information available for all options (not just the governors’ preferred one) and that the decision-makers should be open and transparent. The Supreme Court agrees with me and I’m confused as to why the governing body do not. It was with extreme reluctance that I resigned from further contributions to the consultation. I admire the governing body: I know that they are underappreciated volunteers doing their best, and I hope that they do not take these comments personally. However, I think that what started as one option for improvement, spurred on by political discussions regarding academisation, has actually led them down a path which would radically change the school. We need to convince them to slow down, to let the current team of staff have at least a year with no change, and then see what the future holds for Darell.

The reasons suggested for joining this multi-academy trust have been varied and none has so far convinced me. Actually, the reasons concern me because they do not align with the ethos of the school – that we provide an education for all, that we are inclusive, that we are not driven by results but celebrate the uniqueness of each child.

The results data released on Friday appeared quite worrying – but please don’t be alarmed. The school has a diverse mix of children and families, and we are stronger because of it. The achievements of some children simply cannot be quantified and I’m saddened that’s what is happening. Furthermore, I am disappointed that the results are actually being used to justify academisation when research commissioned by the Department of Education shows no indication that academisation improves results!

Many of last year’s cohort of Year 2 and 6 may have had a special educational need or started at Darell without a word of English. Our results will not show the efforts the staff make every day to help these children develop strategies for coping, the kindness and patience that they are modelling to our children, or their efforts to ensure that our children are well-rounded and simply happy – and isn’t that the most important thing?

I have the great privilege of volunteering at the school and I can reassure all parents that these results show only a small picture and that I saw first-hand how hard the Year 2 and 6 staff work. The explanation did not explicitly put the results down to staff, but without a breakdown of the class cohort I’m afraid that is exactly what it did in reality. I am perplexed by this decision, because the consultation group informed the governors very clearly that it would be a mistake to publish the results in this way. It would only serve to scare parents; it would be deeply insensitive to families with children who did not meet expectations; it would damage our reputation in the community and it would create a bias in the consultation.

Regarding the funding issue, it is complex, and it also affects thousands of schools across the country and they are certainly not all choosing to convert to academies. It makes sense for Achieving for Children to encourage some schools to become an academy: they keep their jobs and are left with the “best” schools. Darell – a more expensive and possibly challenging school to run because of our inclusive intake – can be given away.

So what’s the alternative? How about looking within Darell for a great model? The nursery. My experience of the nursery is that they use tried and tested methods based on years of experience. They are flexible and work collaboratively with parents but also hold them to a high standard – the same high standard that they hold for themselves. The children thrive as a result. They protect the way they run the nursery and they are free from a lot of interference – maybe because their “output” can’t be quantified by testing maths and phonics. There are ways to replicate the key elements of the nursery model across the school.

We also need to all do our part in all of this. We can help the school with funding issues by contacting our next MP, demanding that he or she raise in Parliament the issue of the serious deficit in school funding. We can help the school save money by reading the newsletters and by returning forms to the school so that they don’t spend time chasing us. We can help increase the attainment of our children, and decrease staff stress and resources, by doing all we can to support our children’s learning at home. We can champion Darell to the members of our community, helping to raise its profile. These are small things but they will all make a difference.

I am convinced that the proposal to academise Darell began because of a political agenda. Politics can be dirty, so let’s keep our children out of it. I will fiercely protect the staff – their reputation, their rights and their work/life balance – and all of our children at the school. I know that you will all do the same.

Louise, mother of children in Reception and Year 3:

I left the consultation group yesterday because I didn’t like the way the school was managing the consultation process. There has been no formal consultation of parents or staff on all options available. I have seen no evidence of other options being discussed and therefore feel the consultation process is just a tick box exercise. Something they have to do. I didn’t feel parents would be well informed of what it means to give all control of their child’s education over to an academy that has no proven record with primary schools and would need more primary schools to join to succeed. I don’t understand why we are making a hasty decision when other primary schools have declined to join ECEDAT. They have looked at other options.

Lucy, mother of child in Reception:

• there is a huge reluctance to discuss other ideas for Darell’s future – how can it be a genuine consultation if the governors have already set in motion an application to join ECEDAT and the Chair of Governors is a trustee of the very trust the school is proposing joining?

• the Governors have taken advice from a management consultant who specialises in transferring schools to academies  – putting the cart before the horse?!

• we were told that the process was about ‘reassuring’ parents and staff and I thought that it would be about conversation, e.g. on the day that we resigned, we were asked to come up with things that Maggie Bailey should prepare over the weekend to talk about – i.e. help her prepare her sales pitch.  Shouldn’t she already know the concerns of primary school parents?

• the consultation group asked if they could come to a meeting with the Every Child Every Day Academy Trust.  The request was not even acknowledged let alone responded to.

• On 22nd October, I asked for practical details to be put in place for the structure and organisation of the public meeting during the consultation … suggesting a neutral moderator to chair , a date set so that people have plenty of time to organise childcare to attend etc., a commitment to invite representatives of local political parties, Heads and governors of other local schools and nurseries, community groups such as Friends of North Sheen Rec, Pensford Field etc.  I asked that the governing body provide information about all this before we came back to school after half-term on 1st November.

• the consultation group meetings never had an agenda or minutes taken properly which suggests that our time and ideas were not being taken seriously.

• the irresponsible publication of the SATs results with no contextual information two days before Maggie Bailey coming to sell the idea of ‘Every Child Every Day’.  The poster about Monday and Tuesday’s meetings with Maggie Bailey says that we will be able to find out how ‘Every Child Every Day’ will improve our children’s education – I find it hard to read this as anything other than a ‘done-deal’.

• I consider that the teaching and support staff are the single most valuable resource in the school – I find it scandalous that their views have not already been taken into account

• We have asked for information about this not to be put in the newsletter.  It is hugely important and should be put in separate, clearly signalled letters.  As a parent of a reception child, I would have liked to know that this was in the pipeline back in the summer term when parents of children already in the school were told about it.  Darell was a first choice for our family, precisely because it is a community, inclusive local school.

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