Story: Douglas Johnson
Strong feelings were expressed at two well attended meetings set up to consult the public about Parkwood School. The proposals are to transfer Parkwood School out of the council's control to become an Academy sponsored by a private business organisation called Edutrust.
The government is promoting Academies which were initially aimed at failing schools. Parkwood is not a failing school but it's headteacher and Governors are still keen to explore Academy status. The school would become a limited company with the majority of Governors appointed by Edutrust. The sponsor is required to pay an endowment and takes over the school site and buildings.
The first meeting on 10th January was at Parkwood School, the second, at the Vestry Hall on the 18th, saw more people from Burngreave as Pye Bank School is a feeder of Parkwood. Both meetings were fronted by a panel of 3 – headteacher Chris Mallaband, Bill Goodwin from the Council and Dame Marlene Robottom from Edutrust.
Mr Mallaband spoke passionately of the possible benefits from partnership with business, including a little more money – admittedly only about 1% of the school budget. Edutrust said their primary aim was to “make a difference to students' life chances” though she was less clear about quite how that was to happen.
Loss of Control
Next parents, teachers, adult learning workers and community activists asked questions, the majority about issues of control of the school. The panel stated
“Trustees appointed by the sponsor form the majority of the governing body”
but people asked whether this was really necessary. Councillor Jackie Drayton joined those querying the transfer away from democratic control by the Governors. Edutrust did not respond.
Everyone agreed the school is currently doing very well indeed under it's current headteacher but Mr Mallaband said just a small wobble would destabilise progress. A parent asked if the upheaval of becoming an Academy might cause such an upset. The panel also asked about teachers' pay and conditions.
Unfortunately, the somewhat vague answers given didn't seem to satisfy the audience. Edutrust's promises of “working in partnership with stakeholders” didn't seem to fit with the need to have majority control of the Governing body . The most direct question to Edutrust was
“Why don't you just give the money? Why do you need the control?”
Mr Mallaband was candid that the school was considering a gamble but made clear it has to take risks all the time. He also pointed to the prestige of having the name “Academy” which he felt would bring motivation to staff and students.
Unfortunately the meetings became very tense at times, with a gulf appearing to open up between the handful of school staff who were very strongly in favour of Academy status and the majority of the questioners. This led to the meetings becoming chaotic, with the feeling of clumsy stage management of a bad school play.
Campaigners against Academy status hope to further air the issues at meetings at the Vestry Hall on February 19th and Shirecliffe Community Centre on February 28th.
A decision on whether to move to a feasibility stage will be made by Council Cabinet on 27th February and, if agreed, debated at the full Council on 5th March.