Councillors voted to oppose a primary school’s plan to become an academy shortly after the local authority maintained school’s governors voted in favour of the move.
West Blatchington Primary and Nursery School governors have voted to join the Pioneer Academy despite opposition from Brighton and Hove City Council.
Pioneer, a multi-academy trust, runs 15 schools including Moulsecoomb Primary School, in Brighton.
Before the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee meeting at Hove Town Hall yesterday (Monday 6 March), the council wrote to governors.
The letter raised concerns about the quality of education and the risk to the school’s Reading Centre which “could move”.
The letter also said that a government measure requiring all schools to become academies by 2030, in the Schools Bill, had been shelved.
Green and Labour councillors supported the “strong words” in the letter although it came in for criticism from the Conservatives.
Green councillor Sarah Nield criticised the consultation period, saying that the Department for Education recommended that it should be long enough for interested groups to give “an informed response”.
Five weeks, including the week-long half-term holiday, was not enough, she said, adding that little had been done to reach all sections of the school community.
In particular, more should have been done to consult the disadvantaged and families where English was an additional language – almost a third of the school population – and no public meetings had been held.
Councillor Nield quoted a resignation letter written by a governor, Tim Hodges, who is also a Conservative candidate in Hangleton and Knoll in the local elections in May.
She said: “We are not the first to raise the alarm at what is happening here and the alarm has been raised across the political spectrum.
“One of the governors who has resigned from West Blatchington is, in fact, a Conservative candidate, his resignation letter expressing what he calls his ‘last-ditch hope that the ludicrous and ill-conceived plans to academise the school can be aborted’.”
Councillor Nield added: “Unions representing staff at the school also sound a warning about the brevity and the lack of balanced views and options presented in this consultation – as do our own officers.”
Mr Hodges told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he was not opposed to academies but was not happy with the way that the process had unfolded at West Blatch.
The school has previously defended the duration of its consultation, comparing it with consultations carried out by the council. It also sent the council a comprehensive report about the outcome of its consultation.
Labour councillor Jackie O’Quinn asked why the school had not worked with its neighbours to form a “federation”.
Councillor O’Quinn said: “Labour are fiercely opposed to the proposed academisation of West Blatchington Junior School and nursery.
“We do not believe that the consultation period was long enough, especially as there is a high percentage of parents who do not have English as their first language and they need longer to interpret and understand the questions in the consultation.
“We are also concerned that staff have not been sufficiently informed about the changes that academisation will bring with regard to pay and conditions and also what they will lose regarding the input of the education department at the council.”
Parent Carers’ Council (PaCC) chair Becky Robinson said that she had not heard any feedback from parents, which was a concern because there was a specialist autistic spectrum condition (ASC) unit at the school.
She said that she had checked with the support group Mascot (Managing Autistic Spectrum Conditions Ourselves Together) and said that the group had also heard nothing about the consultation.
Mrs Robinson said: “I’m wondering whether the consultation when it was released wasn’t shared broadly. The ASC unit belongs to the city.”
Conservative councillor Vanessa Brown said that her group was “not impressed” by a letter sent to the school, describing it as “scaremongering and almost threatening”.
Councillor Brown said: “A lot of it was pure supposition. You are suggesting that by joining the academy trust, standards at the school will continue to slip, the Reading Centre may have to close, term dates may change, the staff could be balloted for strike action and support staff could be worse off.
“This is all supposition and appears to be written in an attempt to try to frighten the governors and staff in the hope they will change their minds.”
Green and Labour councillors voted to urge the school to halt its plans and for a report to a future committee on the school’s consultation report and progress towards becoming an academy.