Lewes parents have given a resounding no to any plans to convert six schools in and around the town into academies at a packed public meeting.
Fears have been raised about proposals currently being explored by school leaders about the creation of a private multi-academy trust (MAT), taking them outside of the control of the local education authority.
Parents have already started a petition calling on headteachers and governors to abandon the plans, which has been signed by more than 450 people.
The petition also asks for teachers and parents to be balloted on whether they are in favour of their school being converted to an academy.
A packed public meeting to allow parents to share their concerns and find out more information was held at the Phoenix Centre on Tuesday night (November 27).
Holly Atkins, whose son attends Western Road Community Primary School, said the more she and other parents had discovered about academies ‘the more worried we became about the future of our children and their education’.
She described how there was no evidence converting to an academy improves the quality of education, financial performance or the level of pastoral support available for pupils.
Schools listed as taking part in discussions about the formation of a MAT are Lewes Priory School, Iford and Kingston CE Primary School, Wallands CP School, Southover CE Primary School, Western Road CP School and South Malling CE Primary School.
Holly added: “Whatever the intention of the setting up of the multi-academy trust, the point is the very second it comes into existence these schools cease to exist legally as separate schools.”
However she suggested one of the positives to come out of the current situation was the ‘building of bridges between parents at all six schools’.
Every seat at the Phoenix Centre was taken on Tuesday night, with many standing, some sitting on tables, and other attendees listening to proceedings from the kitchen through its shutters.
Phil Clarke, a National Education Union area representative, was one of several speakers to address the meeting and stressed becoming an academy does not lead to any more funding from central Government.
He described how once a school had been converted into an academy the process could not be reversed, while the creation of a MAT would not protect the schools in question from being taken over by other academy chains.
He said: “I think what we have got in Lewes is worth defending. This is a huge risk to go to a multi-academy trust and it’s not a risk we need to take.”
Academies elsewhere were employing unqualified teachers, the role of individual governing bodies at schools are ‘downgraded’ under a MAT, while leadership pay often increases at academies.
He said: “We can have a partnership of our schools working together and supporting each other without transferring to a private organisation.”
He added: “Let’s keep these schools our schools for the next generation and the generation after that.”
The meeting heard from a special education needs coordinator who works at Lewes Priory, suggested they could start off with something benign if they became a MAT, but would ‘not know where that will end up in the future’.
A parent governor at one of the Lewes schools explained that the move to a MAT was being considered because of cuts by the LEA, which is East Sussex County Council, and the possibility that academisation could be forced on any of the schools if they received a poor Ofsted rating. They said: “We need to be informed and that is where we are.”
Another governor echoed the second point, highlighting the risk of an undesirable academy chains from elsewhere in the country taking over any one of their schools in the future.
But a NEU representative pointed out that being part of a MAT does not protect a school from being taken over by another academy chain.
At the end of the meeting attendees were asked if they opposed the MAT proposals leading to a forest of hands being raised to the ceiling.
To view the petition visit www.change.org/p/tony-smith-priory-e-sussex-sch-uk-save-lewes-schools-from-becoming-a-mat