Budget 2016: St Albans schools speak highly of academy status despite national concern

Verulam School

Verulam School - Credit: Archant

The proposal to convert schools into academies announced in the budget last week has prompted national concern.

Elizabeth Hitch (Beaumont), Alan Gray (Sandringham), Paul Ramsey (Verulam)

Elizabeth Hitch (Beaumont), Alan Gray (Sandringham), Paul Ramsey (Verulam) - Credit: Archant

But academies in the district which have already made the switch have spoken of their positive experience.

Chancellor George Osborne announced last Wednesday (16) that the government will end local authority control of schools, despite academies originally only being brought in for struggling schools by the Labour government in 2000.

Academies are funded by the government but independently run with the help of outside sponsors and the chancellor wants all schools to convert by 2020.

Over the years there have been questions surrounding academies’ finances, and Osborne’s decision was met with national criticism including a national petition calling for a public inquiry and referendum.

Nicholas Breakspear headteacher Declan Linnane, centre, enjoyed meeting Prince Willia, who also chat

Nicholas Breakspear headteacher Declan Linnane, centre, enjoyed meeting Prince Willia, who also chatted pupils Ellie Corroyer (left) and Mary Bates - Credit: Photo supplied

Nearly all secondary schools in St Albans are academies, joining with others in a Multi Academy Trust (MAT), and generally speak highly of their experience.

Declan Linnane, headteacher at Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School (NBS) which is part of the Diocese of Westminster Academy Trust (DoWAT), said: “There is a real sense of togetherness and the schools support each other and are able to share good practices.

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“Working in collaboration has ensured that NBS continues to go from strength to strength and has also given us the opportunity to support other schools.”

Despite his support, there are concerns about how primary schools will cope with the change, given their small size.

Paul Ramsey, head at Verulam school and chair of St Albans and Harpenden Secondary School Heads (STASSH), said that their schools found the change beneficial but it might not be the same for others.

He said: “Although many schools have benefited from the opportunity to convert to academy status, it is an entirely different matter to force such change on all schools.

“The government’s proposals will see the vast majority of primary schools forced to become academies and part of Multi Academy Trusts. The MAT model is not only wholly untested but also comes as schools face significant funding problems.”

There are fewer primary academies in the district but those which already have the status said their experience has been positive.

Androulla Peek, executive headteacher at Fleetville Junior school and CEO of Spiral Partnership Trust, said: “Many people look at academies with suspicion and part of an idealogy they don’t subscribe to. There is a fear of being converted and being subsumed into someone else’s agenda. However I think this is a fear of not being in control; a fear of change.

“The reason we chose to become an academy was actually to retain control of our own destiny and to choose a path that allowed us to work more in collaboration with others.”

She continued: “We likened being a local authority school to being a grown up living at home with their parents. Becoming an academy was like leaving home and setting up for ourselves. We have been able to make independent choices and use our resources to follow through our beliefs.”

Executive head of Mandeville Primary School Amanda Godfrey is also part of the Spiral Partnership Trust and said that their MAT membership has been of good value to the school.

She added: “MATs are unique and individual; schools must identify what they are looking for in their future partnerships and set out to find it. Rather like an arranged marriage, not every school will be lucky enough to have met the perfect partner but they must at least be confident that over time they will be able to build a secure and trusted relationship.”

David Williams, Herts County Council cabinet member for education, said that the council anticipated the change for some time before it was announced.

He added: “We have always supported schools which believe that becoming academies would be a positive step for their future. This includes running a programme which helps schools to convert to academy status. We will work constructively with schools to find the best way to achieve the Government’s objectives while maintaining the high standards of education in Hertfordshire.”

For more information on which schools are academies in the district, click here.