With talk of forced conversions, potential teacher strikes and deliberate misinformation together with various scare stories in both the local and national press, academy conversion is often a very politically charged and emotive subject for those involved with their local school and also the wider community.
Indeed it is no secret that state schools in Leicester have, up until now, been reluctant to follow the government’s new education model by converting to academies – a fact drawn into sharp focus when comparing the handful of open academies in Leicester compared to the 109 in Leicestershire and 2,339 nationwide.
With Humberstone Junior School opening as an academy this month, another junior school submitting a formal application to convert and Rushey Mead School (one of the city’s Ofsted rated ‘outstanding’ schools and a pillar of the Teaching School Alliance) entering into the consultation process, it appears that Leicester schools’ attitudes towards academy conversions are changing, paving the way for a shift in the Leicester educational landscape.
What is particularly interesting with the latest developments is Rushey Mead School’s proposals formally to support some of the city’s underperforming schools which a multi-academy structure would support and is ultimately designed for. Of course if Rushey Mead were to decide to convert then, as part of the proposed collaborative model, it would likely trigger further conversions within the city by associated schools. Further, all eyes would closely be on Rushey Mead post-conversion with it acting as the “litmus test” for other city schools in deciding whether to convert or not. With Rushey Mead such an active school in the area, a successful conversion could very well cause a domino effect of conversions in the surrounding area.
The impact of Rushey Mead’s decision to consult about conversion and the outcomes are therefore likely to have a significant impact on education in Leicester.
In addition, with so many of the schools in surrounding Leicestershire having converted, the road to establishing a well-functioning academy is now well trodden, allowing the schools in the city a greater understanding of whether conversion would be right for them or not. Successful case studies of Leicestershire academies could be a further ingredient in catalysing further conversions within the city.
While there may be a current shift in thinking occurring in Leicestershire, the benefits of academy conversion will always depend on the particular circumstances of a school and its plans to move forward. The decision making process should always include the views and genuine concerns of stakeholders. Only by involving all of the interested groups can a conversion and a post-conversion academy be a success. Taking steps to convert to an academy should never be taken lightly nor should discounting its possible benefits without serious consideration.
Ed Nurse of BHW Solicitors in Leicester regularly talks to schools and governing bodies on academy conversions. Ed can be contacted on 0116 281 6230 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.