Council Leader – academy system is ‘bankrupt’

“I believe, and I will if I’m still Leader after the May election, I will ask the Council to see whether we can set up our own Trust, and have our own family of schools, and see what we can do.”

peterboroughcc11:26 Thursday 21st April 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Should all of our schools be turned into academies? It’s David Cameron’s big idea, to turn every school in the country into an academy, primary, secondary, the lot, to force it to happen. However, some of our Conservative MPs, particularly MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson, not happy with that idea. He’s described it as draconian, heavy-handed. Well earlier former head teacher Eric Winstone agreed with him.
ERIC WINSTONE: In the present context where all schools have been told that they’ve got to be an academy, I think that’s wrong. One size doesn’t fit all, and individual schools and governing bodies should be left to decide in which direction they want to go. From my point of view, in 2006 it was right that the then Bushfield Community College should go down the academy route, for a number of reasons. And that’s proved to be very successful and is now a very good school.
PAUL STAINTON: Well MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson has urged Education Minister Nicky Morgan to think again, to at least put her plans on hold. Let’s speak to the Leader of Peterborough City Council John Holdich, Conservative councillor of course. Worked in education for decades and decades. Not that many decades but decades. John, morning. Welcome to the show. What’s the thinking behind this with David Cameron? And are you with Stewart Jackson here, that they should think again?

JOHN HOLDICH: I am absolutely 100% with Stewart Jackson. I think the academy system is bankrupt. It started with bringing a few schools together. You could use backroom services and all the rest of it and put more money in the classroom. But now you’ve got academy trusts with a hundred schools. They’re no more than mini-LEAs. And they don’t focus on your city. Just look at the history of academies in Peterborough. If you don’t make the floor in your examination results then you’re forced to become an academy. Have you seen them improve?
PAUL STAINTON: Bushfield improved, didn’t it?
JOHN HOLDICH: Yes OK. There are horses for courses. As your Mr Winstone just told you in 2006 it was the right thing for that school to do.
PAUL STAINTON: But not per se across the board is what you’re saying.
JOHN HOLDICH: Well absolutely right. You’ve only got to look at the situation with a particular secondary school in this town where it’s been an absolute disaster. And their turn-round time, turning around the school, has been abominable
PAUL STAINTON: You’re talking about, what, Thomas Deacon, or Voyager.
JOHN HOLDICH: No, talking about the Voyager.
PAUL STAINTON: Voyager. Sorry. Thomas Deacon has had its problems as well, hasn’t it?
JOHN HOLDICH: Oh yes. It has. But Thomas Deacon actually addressed them themselves and replaced management and so on, and got it going. But it was a long time, and I actually had to write to them and to Ofsted and say I wasn’t happy with it. I have no powers in which to do that. And I just think it’s wrong. If you look at the system, and when I say it’s bankrupt Paul, it’s that they’ve sucked all the good heads out, and you get a good head, and then all of a sudden he becomes an executive head over three or four schools, and you get another head in that school which disrupts it. I believe, and I will if I’m still Leader after the May election, I will ask the Council to see whether we can set up our own Trust, and have our own family of schools, and see what we can do.
PAUL STAINTON: So you will become an LEA by the back door, which is what you’ve just accused them of doing, to gain local control over our own schools, basically.
JOHN HOLDICH: Well that’s it. That’s the way to get local control of our schools. You’re in quite a privileged position because you’ve seen all the figures behind. I know we’re fairly .. somebody could say well you’re down the bottom of the league tables. But when you understand that our newcomers are underachieving by about 12%, we’re working on that as we did with Pakistani children four or five years ago. They were underachieving by about 12% and it’s now 2%. But it takes time to do it Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: And Peterborough’s got its own unique set of problems, hasn’t it, with the amount of people that come into the city. And surely then what you’re saying is local people know best on this and that these Trusts really, privatisation by the back door isn’t it?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well yes. I think it is. And I am steeped in local government as are a lot of people, and I believe Peterborough has got a handle on these challenges that they’ve got, and I think to move it to somebody who might come from Nottingham or wherever they come from is just a backward step.
PAUL STAINTON: But it has worked in some places, hasn’t it? And that is the key to all of this, isn’t it. Is this why the Government is pushing it?
JOHN HOLDICH: Why I said I think it’s bankrupt Paul, I explained it’s the fact that they’ve sucked all the talent out of the system. In 2006 and up to probably two or three years ago there were some very good heads around, young heads that wanted promotion and all the rest of it. But they’ve gone. They’re not there. You’ve got to build your own. So I don’t think by just doing a blanket one that you’ll improve anything.
PAUL STAINTON: Mm. And of course this is going to focus very much on primary schools in the future, which are by and large not academies at the moment. And you’ve got problems in Peterborough already, so where will this end up do you think?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well in the early days there were cash advantages for schools to go to academies. I won’t name the school, but a particular school I’m a governor of got about £800,000 extra. And that’s been riddled away now to absolutely nothing. And a primary school, because they’re much smaller, the cash incentives are really just non-existent.
PAUL STAINTON: So these primary schools get swallowed up, and then as somebody said earlier they’ll put them into the secondary school and they’ll sell off the land and make some money. Is that a worry?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well at the moment, and it does annoy me, we spend £30 million on building a new secondary school and I have to sign it over to the Trust for a 125 year lease. So it doens’t become ours anyway.
PAUL STAINTON: It doesn’t sound like good business that John.
JOHN HOLDICH: Well it doesn’t sound like good business to me, and I think .. I don’t know what the system is going to be for the rest of them, but yes, you are going to give that land and the buildings away. And I need to also make sure that they maintain them as well.
PAUL STAINTON: John, thank you. John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council. He thinks the academy system is bankrupt.