For those about to face the academy steamroller

I FEEL for the parents, staff and pupils of Weston Favell School. I really do. I’m sure my fellow parents of Malcolm Arnold-nee-Unity-nee-Trinity pupils do too.

For the last few years, we watched the chaos and disruption wreaked by the Academy steamroller as it did/didn’t/did turn our state secondary school in a disadvantaged, urban catchment area into, well, a school with a new head, a name and new uniform.

Now Weston Favell is going through the same débâcle, as its potential sponsors are named. At least Weston parents are being told straight-up: “You don’t have a choice about this, other than to state a preference for a sponsor.”

Organisations on the sponsor list include The David Ross Foundation, which already sponsors The Malcolm Arnold Academy and another in Grimsby, and E-ACT, whose director general, one-time Northampton School for Boys head Bruce Liddington, also wants to set up a “free school” east of the town. Other potential sponsors are Greenwood Dale School in Nottingham, Barnfield College, Bedford College, Hanover Foundation, Ormiston Trust, Priory Federation of Academies and ARK Schools.

Weston, by all accounts, seemed to be improving of late under their new head Betty Hasler, who told parents last week: “There is no choice not to be an academy. The Department of Education has made it very clear that we cannot stay as we are and if we do not choose are own sponsor then the Government will make the choice for us.”

Similarly, Unity’s previous head Mrs Gwynne had been well-liked and had started to turn the school around. But becoming a ‘new’ academy means a new headteacher is non-negotiable. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but this means Ms Hasler could be getting the boot(if she hadn’t already announced her intention to jump ship).

When Unity/Trinity became Malcolm Arnold Academy in September, I wrote that I would reserve judgement until the school had a chance to settle down. I’m nervously and impatiently standing by that statement.

After all, how do we parents really know what’s going on? We chuck our children through the gates, remind them about homework, wash their sports kit and and hope for the best. I get no feedback from my son who is 13 and only grunts.

At first, many promises were made. Malcolm Arnold Academy, under the David Ross Foundation , vowed to have a well-staffed school with better discipline and beneficial links with public schools.

We were also to be a music and maths specialist, but as far as I’m aware, the school still has no Head of Music (job adverts had stated the position would start in January, five months after the school opened). What I do hear, from fellow parents and staff, is that very little has really changed. There’s still a lack of consistency in teaching and discipline.

There are, however, new opportunities. Our usually mono-syllabic first-born used his gift of the gab to win the chance to have a tour of the Olympic stadium site and visit Mayor Boris at his London HQ. Apparently David Ross won the trip for a handful of his academy students in a charity raffle! Jed’s playing hockey – which he loves – thanks to the efforts of staff who have done a deal with Thomas Becket to share training. This week he went to the theatre to watch Private Peaceful. He’s also taking part in a schools competition to stage a mock Magistrate’s Court trial. All these things make his younger brother, who got into the over-subscribed Northampton School for Boys, green with envy.

The only advice I have for Weston’s anxious parents is: Don’t panic. Yes, it’s a pain to have your child’s education fiddled with at every turn. No, there’s not a lot you can do about it. All we can ever do as parents is to hope that the school does its absolute best to give your child every opportunity to fulfil his or her potential, and that we as parents find the time/money/enthusiasm to support them.

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