6 March 2006
has been contacted by a growing number of parent groups who have concerns about academy schools in their area. Here he outlines some of the things that are bothering parents who often have no choice as to which school their children attend.
Trinity Academy Doncaster
The Trinity Academy
replaced Thorne Grammar School
in 2005 and is run by the Emmanuel Schools Foundation
, part of the Vardy Foundation, established by car dealer Sir Peter Vardy
. The foundation has a strong fundamentalist Christian ethos.
Richard Stein of Leigh Day & Co recently met with a group of parents whose children attend Trinity Academy. They are particularly concerned about the severity of the disciplinary regime
at the school which has seen over 100 students suspended (temporarily excluded) in its first term. Dissatisfied parents have formed the Thorne and Moorends Parents and Students Support Group
's code of conduct is particularly tough on smoking
. Pupils caught smoking are suspended for a first offence, given a final warning for the second and expelled for the third. Parents and some teachers suspect that the code of conduct is being used to select and remove 'difficult' children in a bid to raise academic standards. Students have also experienced problems over a strictly imposed uniform code.
Parents of students at Trinity Academy have little choice in the school that their children attend, living as they do, in a rural area. They are worried about the authoritarian attitude that they say the school shows towards students and parents. Parental involvement has not been encouraged at the school and the complaints system seems weighted against students and their families.
The government has encouraged the growth of academy schools which are run as independent trusts. Trust sponsors can have their curriculum and ethos shaped to reflect their views and beliefs - as long as they invest up to £2m towards building costs. Sponsors such as Sir Peter Vardy and carpet-dealer Lord Harris of Peckham often have no professional background in education. There are concerns that extensive statutory protections that exists for parents and pupils at all state schools have been removed for independent academy schools. Parents and teachers are worried about some of the following:
- Special education needs (SEN)
- Admission policies
- Disciplinary codes of conduct and exclusion policies
- Staff pay and conditions
- Lack of parental representation on governing bodies
Academy schools are regulated by funding agreements between the Secretary of State and the Trust running the Academy. Public money still pays for all of the running costs and the major part of the capital costs but there is no accountability to parents, pupils or local education authorities.
Education at Leigh Day
team at Leigh Day & Co
has considerable experience in dealing with the problems thrown up as academy schools take over existing state schools. In Islington Richard Stein successfully challenged the decision by the London Borough of Islington to grant planning permission to the London Diocesan Board for Schools to close a successful church Primary School and replace it with an Academy. Once again there was little parental consultation about the decision to change the status of the local school.
For more information please contact Richard Stein
on 020 7650 1200.
Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.