PENDLE councillor Tony Greaves has revealed plans for schools to become “academies” in Pendle and has called for an end to “secrecy over the bombshell proposals”.
He is calling on everyone concerned to “come clean” over discussions taking place about the conversion of certain schools to academy status. He also claims certain primary schools are being subject to “unacceptable bullying” by the Department for Education and being told to convert against their will.
“What is happening appears to be the worst kind of bribery and bullying from on high, in a climate of closed rooms and sealed lips where everyone is being told to talk to nobody and say nothing, in fear of their jobs and positions. It is clear whatever anyone in Pendle thinks about the proposals counts for nothing.”
Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves was on the governing body of Primet High School, located in his ward and at which his daughters were educated. He was one of a group of Liberals who strongly opposed aspects of the Academies Bill when it went through the Lords two years ago.
In relation to Primet, Lord Greaves said: “It is an open secret within education circles in Pendle that discussions have been taking place for some time with a view to Primet converting to academy status under the sponsorship of Nelson and Colne College.
“If Primet were to convert to an academy, it would no longer be part of the local family of schools which come under the support and funding of Lancashire County Council, but would be an ‘independent’ school responsible to and funded by Central Government through a national quango. This raises a lot of very important issues.”
And in relation to local primary schools, he said: “My understanding is the three schools in Pendle – all in the wider Nelson area – would also be ‘taken over’ by Nelson and Colne College, who have been designated as the ‘preferred sponsor’.”
Lord Greaves said: “What I hear is that at least two of the schools are at this stage fighting against these arbitrary plans and strongly object to the label ‘under achieving’. However, the DfE has been instructing councils to issue ‘warning notices’ to schools which are backsliding.
“In many ways, these secret plans for three primary schools are even more alarming. There is a long tradition in Pendle of primary schools working together.”
Lord Greaves points out that Nelson and Colne College is already an independent free-standing incorporated business. With the possibility that colleges will be allowed to run at a profit, handing over schools to their control opens up the nightmare of privatisation of the education system.
Lord Greaves intends to put down a series of parliamentary questions in the House of Lords, as soon as the Lords resume on Monday.
Head of Primet Mrs Janet Walsh said: “Following an expression of interest from Primet High governors to the DfE, Michael Gove gave his approval in principle for the school to convert to academy as part of a trust to be established by Nelson and Colne College.
“School governors voted unanimously to seek to convert, as they believe it will be in the long term interests of the school. Following the building of the development of the new BSF schools in Pendle, and subsequent withdrawal of the Phase 2 BSF funding, Primet High School believes working within a local trust led by an outstanding local organisation affords new and exciting opportunities for the school working in partnership with other local schools.
“Plans for the consultation regarding the conversion are being drawn up which will provide all interested parties with a full and accurate account of the vision for the school as an academy and an opportunity to contribute to its future development.”
New principal of Nelson and Colne College Amanda Melton said: “Earlier this year, the DfE approached the college. The department suggested the college would be a suitable sponsor for an Academy Trust which would support local primary schools which the government is strongly encouraging to become academies.
“The college’s governing body agreed to explore the possibility of creating an academy trust which would recognise the specific educational aspirations and challenges in Pendle. As yet, no plans have been confirmed and nothing will be finalised until much more information has been collected.
“Academies are very much on the government agenda. In developing a locally based academy trust, the college would be able to create an academy solution which reflects the needs of its community, and will put pupils and their teachers first.
“The aim of the academy trust is to provide a supportive environment in which individuals schools can retain their unique identity, and benefit from the support of a local high performing college with strong links to local employers.
“Independently, Primet High School has applied to the government for permission to become an Academy and has made it clear that if permission was granted, they would welcome Nelson & Colne as their sponsor.”
She said plans were at an early stage and both the school and college are keen to get the views of parents, pupils and other schools. She added: “A further primary school has also expressed a wish to be adopted by the college.”