Suffolk school leaders react to Tory proposals to convert struggling schools into academies

David Cameron has set out a policy which could see struggling schools turned into academies. Photogr

David Cameron has set out a policy which could see struggling schools turned into academies. Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

School leaders in Suffolk have criticised Tory proposals to make struggling schools academies.

The policy was unveiled yesterday by David Cameron who promised to carry out the major shake-up if he wins an overall majority in May’s General Election.

Under the proposals any English school assessed as “requires improvement” by Ofsted will be put under new leadership unless it can show it has plans in place to bring about rapid change. The school could also be converted to an academy in a bid to raise standards if an improvement plan is not in place.

Dr Simon Letman, headteacher of Holbrook Academy, said becoming an academy should not be viewed as quick-fix for schools which have the “requires improvement” status. He said the government and Suffolk County Council (SCC) were focusing on making more schools academies because it “absolves them of responsibility” – a claim that Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at SCC said was “simply not true”.

Dr Letman said: “It shows complete ignorance of the reality for those schools in that category – there’s two type of requires improvement: those on an upward trajectory and those on a downward.

“Even those on a downward trajectory are not coasting, they are working damn hard to get back.”

Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills, said: “We want to ensure all children attend a good or outstanding school regardless of its status.

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“Where we have a direct role with a maintained school, we intervene; where we don’t, we will work with the regional commissioner and the government to drive up standards. So, academy, free school, local-authority school, our mission is to drive up standards across the board.”

Stowupland High School was awarded a “requires improvement” grade in 2013 but has now been given a “good” status in an inspection carried out last month.

Karen Grimes, headteacher of the school, said: “Schools which require improvement can be in very different places. All schools should have improvement plans and requires improvement schools will have very rigorous plans as these are scrutinised and commented upon by Ofsted inspectors within six weeks of the initial inspection.”

Andy Prestoe, principal at Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill, said it was not just about “waving a magic wand” and forcing schools to become academies. He said: “The quality of an academy’s sponsorship and the support that is in place has to be there for a school to improve.”

Graham White, Suffolk NUT secretary, said: “The academies programme in Suffolk has been a failure. Those schools that were ‘failing’ under local authority are still failing as academies so where is the evidence that academies result in improvement?

“If we want to raise standards in schools then we need to put time,money and effort into resourcing them correctly and allowing

local authorities to do the job not ‘sell’ them off to a private sponsor.”