Salford Council was accused last night of being "high handed" in the way it "hatched up" a plan to take local schools out of its control to become academies.
Judith Elderkin of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), addressing a meeting for parents and staff from Dukesgate Primary School at Clegg's Lane Methodist Church in Little Hulton, said that the plan to move to academy status "was almost a done deal but it's supposed to be in a consultation period".
Salford Council is proposing to take Dukesgate Primary in Little Hulton, and East Salford's Marlborough Road Primary and Albion High, out of Salford Council's democratic control and change them to academy status, under the umbrella of a new Salford Academy Trust, run by Salford College, Salford University and Salford Council (see previous Salford Star article here).
A further twenty schools in Salford have also been approached with the aim of becoming academies, the Salford Star understands. It's one of the most radical changes ever made to Salford's education system but parents, staff and trade unions agreed last night that it has been done almost in secret.
The NUT's Judith Elderkin told the meeting that the Salford Academy Trust was a plan "hatched up" by Salford Council's Director of Children's Services Nick Page and his deputy, plus former Council Leader John Merry and Margaret Morris the former Lead Member for Children's Services – while the proposals had never been taken to a full Salford Council or Cabinet meeting…
"Many councillors had not been told about this" she added "Salford Council has handled this in a very high handed way. We've only dragged the whole story out of them in bits and pieces."
Meanwhile the Salford NUT rep suggested to the meeting that around half a million pounds was being "creamed off school budgets" to pay for the running of the three proposed new academies – to be spent on a Chief Executive and offices at Salford Quays.
"This is not good news for children" she argued, lambasting Salford Council's attempts at consultation "As parents have you had a ballot paper – yes or no? No! That is not consultation."
Parents of children who attend Dukesgate Primary questioned why the changes were being brought in so quickly and explained that they were confused by the process and differing information given by those in favour and opposed to the change to academy status.
Reverend Stephen of Clegg's Lane Methodist Church, who has close ties with Dukesgate School, told the meeting that while he was neutral on the academy question he was "deeply concerned for the continuity of children's education…with the process of pushing to get it in place by September and the lack of clarity on consultation."
Steven North, secretary of Salford City UNISON which represents non-teaching staff at Salford schools, told the meeting that while "our role is to represent workers at Dukesgate we're not just here for that – we're concerned about our children's education and having a say over the kind of education our children receive."
He contrasted the current education system - over which, via councillors and elections, the community could vote and influence the running of schools – with the proposed academy structure which would not be accountable to the local community.
He also cited the proposed Salford Council closure of St George's RC High School in Little Hulton, which was stopped by the local community (see here), and contrasted it with Oasis Academy which sacked staff half way through the academic year and led to a riot by pupils (see here).
"Schools should be accountable to the local community" Steven North argued "And we are worried that this will not be the case with academies.
He said that, post-academy status, Salford schools could decide to cut wages for staff, charge for after school activities, have bigger class sizes or even try to make a profit. He also argued that Salford College, the main force behind the academy model for Salford, had no experience of running primary schools.
Judith Elderkin added that Steven Craig Rashleigh, who is heading up Salford City College's Salford Academy Trust, was the former deputy head of Bolton Boy's School in the private school sector, light years away from the social circumstances of Little Hulton, and had no experience of working in Salford primary schools.
Staff and parents who attended the meeting said they felt that they were getting two completely different sets of information on the future academy status of Dukesgate Primary School. One set that the Council and school was sending out – branded as "eyewash" by the NUT – and the information given out by unions.
One way of resolving this, said UNISON's Steven North, was to have a public meeting where both sides could put their arguments, followed by a formal vote on whether parents and staff wanted Dukesgate to become an academy or not. This motion was put to the meeting and it was agreed by a unanimous vote that this was the best way forward.
UNISON will today write to Salford Council proposing a public meeting and a vote by parents and staff on the future of Dukesgate.
But will Salford Council allow this to happen? Will Salford Council and its new Mayor, Ian Stewart, allow democracy to dictate the future of Salford's education system? Watch this space…
After the meeting the Salford Star got the views of some of the pupils who currently attend Dukesgate Primary School…What do they think about the change to academy status?
Mitchell Farrelly, 11: "I just think it's all wrong and they've said to the adults that they're going to hold it off while they decide, but then they just decided to do it themselves and make it become an academy. I think it's good that they've had this meeting today. I like the school as it is and don't want it to become an academy. My mum thinks it's daft and a waste of time. There's no point in doing it."
Blake Higgin, 11: "The parents should have a say, they all don't really want it to happen. And the logo might change but it's been there since they opened the school so I don't want it to change. All they're doing is giving us more money and mostly it goes on early years, not us. It's not really good."
Photo: from left to right Mitchell Farrelly, Blake Higgin and Alfie Higgin
PUBLIC MEETING OPPOSING ALBION HIGH BECOMING AN ACADEMY
Wednesday 20th June 6pm St Sebastian's Community Centre, 1 Douglas Green, Salford, M6 6ES, Charlestown.
The meeting is backed by the Anti-Academies Alliance www.antiacademies.org.uk
See also previous Salford Star article on the break up of state education in Salford - academies, UTC etc - click here