Academy sponsor AET pulls out of two Portsmouth secondary schools!

Blow for schools as academy firm pulls out of deals

Published on the
09 May

PLANS to turn two Portsmouth secondary schools into academies have hit a brick wall after sponsorship was withdrawn.

Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) has confirmed it is withdrawing its academy sponsorship of Miltoncross and Priory schools.

Both schools were expected to become AET academies later this year.

But it’s believed the trust has been asked by the Department for Education (DfE) to focus on raising results in its existing academies, rather than taking on more schools.

Councillor Rob Wood, cabinet member for children and education at Portsmouth City Council said: ‘We recognise this has not been an easy decision for AET and respect their judgement in withdrawing their sponsorship.

‘This decision is because of circumstances outside of the schools’ and the council’s control and not because of any local concerns or issues.

‘We are now talking to both schools and the Department for Education to agree the best way forward. We realise the schools, pupils and parents may be disappointed by this decision by AET.’

But Cllr Wood said Ofsted had praised both schools for their hard work in recent months.

‘Ofsted has recently confirmed that both schools are making significant improvements,’ he added.

‘We are determined that with strong leadership in both schools these improvements will continue, irrespective of academy status.’

Julian Wright, chairman of governors at Priory School, said: ‘Over the past couple of years a considerable amount of time and effort by all parties has been put into consultation and evaluating the best way ahead for Priory.

‘This surprise decision means that we will now need to re-evaluate our position and ensure our next step is one that will benefit the school for the long term.

‘On a positive note, through this work, the leadership and management of the school has gone from strength to strength, and this provides us with a great foundation to build on in our drive to become an outstanding school.’

Duncan Georgeson, chairman of governors at Miltoncross School said: ‘We have had significant support from AET while trying to become an AET academy and we are immensely frustrated by this decision, due to issues beyond our control. The governing body will consider the full implications of AET’s withdrawal and examine all available options to enable Miltoncross School to continue the improvement journey to becoming an outstanding school, offering students the best possible education.’

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Is Michael Gove’s Education Agenda Ideological?

By Siôn Reynolds, NASUWT Portsmouth Association Local Secretary (personal capacity)

It is commonplace for the Coalition Government’s attacks on the Welfare State and working-class living standards to be described as “ideological.” This is nowhere more so than for policies being pursued by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. Suzanne Moore of the Guardian recently claimed that, “Gove, charming as he is, is one of the most profoundly ideological of the lot.”(1) Putting aside the curious take on Gove as charming, is it really the case that his policies are ideological? Or is there something more material behind his manoeuvres?

Although Gove has an ideology, it is difficult to define what it is, since it is patently an incoherent muddle of moral authoritarianism and economic neo-liberalism. In fact, it is essentially the ideology bequeathed to him by Margaret Thatcher. This is the narrow outlook of a shop-keeper’s daughter that befits the decrepit condition of British capitalism since the 1970s. The Government’s policies would be much the same even if Gove was not in office, because there are deeper and broader social and economic forces at play.

Gove’s “revolution” (actually a counter-revolution) in education is not merely an ideological idiosyncrasy. It is a feature of capitalism in the raw. In education, as in so many other spheres of life, the Coalition Government is taking Thatcher’s agenda to plumb depths she would never have dared to plumb. Of course, Gove lends this his inimitable spin and Tory-boy panache, but this crusade would be in full-swing even without the “Boy Wonder” at its helm.

We call it a counter-revolution in education because it represents the biggest assault on state education since it was founded in 1870, since it hands local authority ownership and control of publicly funded schools to the private sector, in the form of academy schools and “free” schools, which are publicly funded but privately owned and controlled.

This counter-revolution in education is also an attempt to complete Thatcher’s “unfinished business” (David Cameron’s phrase), that is, to destroy the teaching unions, because they continue to hold the highest density of union membership in the UK and because they hold on, stubbornly, to national pay bargaining.

Gove freely admits that he takes his inspiration from others. Gossip has it that he has been going around the world with a mole-skin notebook, buttonholing individuals at conferences and taking down any ideas he thinks might inform his “revolution” in education. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), noted last year: “By his own admission, Michael Gove is relaxed about profit-making from schools. He takes his inspiration from Sweden, where profits are being made by reducing the number of qualified teachers, and where educational standards have fallen.” (2)

In the USA the education “for-profit” movement has been in existence since the Reagan era. “For-profit” organisations (also called Educational Management Organisations) are unashamedly “market-oriented”, i.e. rather than intrinsically educational. One such school, Mosaica Academy Charter in Bensalem near Philadelphia, was founded as early as 1988. In the year 2000 a reporter in Businessweek announced: “Mosaica is a harbinger of what proponents believe will be a revolutionary force in U.S. education: for-profit companies that run publicly-funded schools.” At Mosaica, “there is no teacher’s union, the school day is almost two hours longer than the public [state]school, and the academic year is 20 days’ longer.”(3) This will no doubt chime as a familiar scenario to anyone who has come across the Ark academy schools chain in England, owned and run by City hedge fund managers!

“For-profit” schools are hailed as a freshly profitable opportunity: “Big name investors are subscribing to this vision, lured by the prospect of getting on the ground floor of an entirely new industry. From J.P. Morgan… and Fidelity Ventures to Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures, a host of backers are sinking millions into the new school companies in the belief that for-profit education is poised for explosive growth…In the near term, you’re going to see growth not unlike the internet.”(4)

And we all know what happened to the internet bubble. But publicly-funded academy and “free” schools are now de rigueur in UK markets, attracting the interest of investment giants like Microsoft and Pearson.

If profit is to be made, one way to achieve this is to depress wages/salaries. In a typical English state school around 90% of a school’s spending will tend to go on staffing, the biggest share of which being teachers’ salaries. Academies and “free” schools tend to attempt to reduce this as a share of their budgets. Not all US charter schools are “for-profit”, but it is generally the case that experienced teachers are paid less in charter schools than their counterparts in US state schools.(5)

Another method of schools reducing the salaries bill is to employ less experienced teachers, who tend to be paid less because they are lower down the incremental and/or leadership scales. Gove has gone further, having realised that unqualified teachers tend to cost even less than newly qualified ones. At their Conference in Bournemouth this Easter, the NASUWT teachers’ union condemned his “decision to remove the requirement to employ qualified teachers in schools” in England. This was, they contended, a “calculated step to depress pay.” The Union’s General Secretary, Chris Keates added: “Education is in the grip of a free marketeer who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”(6)

But the idea of recruiting cheap, unqualified teachers is not new. Since 1990 in the USA a venture called Teach For America (TFA) has recruited unqualified teachers straight from college. They give them a 5-week crash-course which is supposed to prepare them for the classroom. Members of the TFA “corps” are only required to serve as a teacher for two years. Only 29% of TFA alumni were still teaching in 2009.(7) Thus, TFA is a conveyer belt, feeding schools continually with raw recruits from college, who burn out before they cost too much and before they can learn any better of the situation, only to be quickly replaced by more raw recruits. From his ivory tower in Westminster, Gove has seen the future… and it is grim.

With an ideology seemingly altruistic and progressive, in practice the TFA serves to undermine the teaching profession. The founding principles behind TFA were characteristically liberal. In 1988 the Princeton undergraduate Wendy Kopp wrote a thesis arguing for a national teacher corps, modelled on Kennedy’s Peace Corps – the archetype of voluntarism – that “would mobilize some of the most passionate, dedicated members of my generation to change the fact that where a child is born in the United States largely determines his or her chances in life.”(9) However, in 2009 USA Today reported that union leaders were “beginning to see school systems lay off teachers and then hire TFA college grads due to a contract they signed.” Despite liberal intentions, TFA has eventually become subservient to the likes of Scott Walker and Chris Christie in their “neo-con” crusade against the teaching profession, matched only by Gove’s “revolution” in English schools and the charter school movement in Sweden.

Another method of raising the rate of profit is to work the teachers more intensively. Teachers face far heavier workloads in U.S. charter schools and are dissatisfied with their working conditions.(10) Consequently, teacher turnover is generally much higher in charter schools than in public (i.e. state) schools, and we have already seen that recruiting newer teachers is much cheaper than recruiting experienced ones.(11) No “loss” there then (that is, if you are a school bursar).

A further means of extending profits is to extend the working day. Indeed, the trend in “for-profit” schools, as in academies and “free” schools in England, is to lengthen the school day and the academic year. At Voyageur Academy in Detroit, the newly appointed principal Rod Atkins (who had no previous experience in teaching and who had previously served General Motors as a marketing manager) discovered that many “kids” were struggling with multiplication tables. Was his answer to improve the quality of teaching? No! (He wouldn’t know anything about that.) Instead, he says: “we decided to put everybody in lockdown from 3.30 to 5pm.” Simple. When parents arrived to pick up their kids, Atkins told them to come back later. They said “fine,” Rod tells us. His hope is presumably to use extended hours to attract parents to send their children to the school. Great for parents: free babysitting! Also sound economic sense for the school, as more “bums on seats” means more public funding, means more profit for the corporation! Pity the teachers who have to work into the evenings and weekends to mark their pupils’ work and plan/prepare for the next round of teaching.

In England, to raise profit margins further, somebody has had the novel idea that schools could start charging parents for extended services. This has been permitted since the introduction of Gove’s Education Act of 2011. An NASUWT pamphlet warned that the Act would “enable schools to be run for profit” and “permit charging for access to education…Schools will be able to charge for a range of services such as ‘optional extras’, which may include such matters previously provided free of charge to pupils (e.g. music, art, sport, IT, design and technology, vocational programmes).”(12)

This is the real cost of the English Baccalaureate (Gove’s horrific vision of a return to a 1950s style education system – based on his imagined version of a bygone era before he even graced the planet). It is now possible for schools to offer what Gove considers to be “soft-subjects” as “optional extras” for a pecuniary fee. Again, a profitable opportunity, if you are a capitalist investor.

It was recently revealed in a leaked memo that Gove is considering outright privatisation of academies and free schools, allowing them to become profit-making for the first time, entirely “freed” from Whitehall control.(13)

Chris Keates said: “none of this comes as any surprise to the NASUWT, although it gives us no pleasure to say we told you so. Since the Secretary of State’s academisation programme began, we have maintained that the agenda was to put as many schools as possible into predatory chains of private providers.”(14)

Christine Blower said that the NUT “has been in no doubt that outright privatisation of schools with the private sector making a profit at taxpayers’ expense has always been highest on Michael Gove’s agenda.”(15)

On becoming Secretary of State in 2010, Michael Gove’s vision was that the U.S. model of Charter Schools could be replicated in the UK. He said they were doing a “fantastic job, free from bureaucratic control, of transforming the life chances of young people.”(16) He stated that the reforms he was planning were “exactly analogous” to the Charter School system. What is most shocking is that Gove is trying to go further, for example, by allowing schools to charge parents for less privileged, but nevertheless popular and worthwhile, subjects in the curriculum. Gove has patently only just begun…

But the counter-revolution in education is not merely ideological. Let us not forget that it was Labour’s old leftist, David Blunkett, who founded the academy schools programme in 2000 (although the seed of this idea was taken from Thatcher’s Secretary of State, Kenneth Baker’s City Technology Colleges scheme from 1986). Gove has pressed the academies programme because, from a capitalist point of view, it makes sound economic sense. Would Labour continue these educational policies in power? Probably… unless the Labour Movement had something to say about it! And if Labour does win the next General Election, then working-class people and those interested in a truly social-democratic education system are going to be asking some awkward questions.


  1. Moore, Suzanne (30 January 2013): “Michael Gove is destroying our school system”, Guardian,
  2. Hélène Mulholland (27 July 2012): “Michael Gove tells academies they can hire unqualified teaching staff,”
    The Guardian
  3. Symonds, William C. (7 February 2000) “For Profit Schools,” Businessweek
  4. Symonds, op. cit.
  5.  NASUWT (23 September 2010), “Criticisms of Charter Schools”…/nasuwt_007094.pdf
  6.  Merrick, Jane (10 February 2013): “Secret Memo shows Michael Gove’s plan for privatisation of academies,” The Independent
  7. Toppo, Greg (29 July 2009): “Teach For America”: Elite corps or costing older teachers jobs?”
  8. Hartman, Andrew (2012): “Teach for America: The hidden curriculum of Liberal Do-gooders,” Jacobin: a magazine of culture and polemic
  9. Toppo, op. cit
  10. NASUWT (2010), op. cit.
  11. Ibid.
  12.  NASUWT (2011): “The Education Act 2011: information for parents”…/nasuwt_008854.pdf
  13. Merrick, op. cit.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. NASUWT (2010), op. cit.
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10 Reasons not to let your school be academised:-

1. You will lose local, democratic control over your school.
You will lose publicly owned assets to private sector spivs.
3. You will have no right to elected parent governors or staff governors.
4. The heads are paid exorbitant salaries.
5. The teachers don’t have to be qualified.
6. Your school may be run for profit.
7. Their funding arrangements are corrupt.
8. They will have to buy in services, often at exorbitant prices.
9. You may have to pay for creative subjects offered only after school.
10. There is no going back!*
*The only way to prevent these things is to opt to become a co-op school.

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Co-op Schools are an alternative to academisation

Click all the links to explore an alternative to academisation. There is a viable alternative as the last link to the DfE will show.

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Teachers Across Hamnpshire Could Take Strike Action
By Ruth Scammell
Published on Tuesday 11 September 2012 14:00

SCHOOLS across the area could face disruption as teaching unions announced plans for industrial action.

It comes as teachers continue their dispute with the Secretary of State for Education over pay, pensions, workload and conditions of service and job loss.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) say if no further action is taken, teachers could be driven to take strike action.

It will include a work to rule, not attending school meetings and some extra-curricular activities, not filling in forms or covering for absent staff, and refusing to invigilate on some exams such as GCSEs and SATs.

The unions say this action will be taken in order to avoid too much disruption to pupils and parents.

Sion Reynolds, secretary of the Portsmouth branch of NASUWT, which has around 900 members, said: ‘If any schools refuse to acknowledge the industrial action then that can lead to strike action.

‘We don’t want to take strike action.

‘We don’t take strike action lightly.

‘But we may be forced to if the government continues to attack our professional status.

‘We do a good job in the public service. We need fair credit for the work that we put in.’

The unions say that government policies are undermining teachers’ ability to work effectively to deliver the highest standards of education, as staff are being asked to take on extra duties.

Mr Reynolds added: ‘We are saying that there are things that we won’t do, that we refuse to do such as covering for absent colleagues.

‘We feel that we want to be spending our time teaching our own class as opposed to babysitting for other classes.

‘It’s a work to rule but it’s more than that.’

Headteacher of Isambard Brunel Junior School in North End Iain Gilmour said: ‘Teachers don’t take strike action lightly.

‘They are aware of the disruption it causes. If they feel strike action is the only way forward then something has gone seriously wrong.

‘I hope that academic leaders wouldn’t dismiss that but would listen to what has to be said.

‘If it happens, as a headteacher I will do my best to run the school as best as I can.’

The action will be implemented from September 26.

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Accusations made over Portsmouth academy’s intake of problem pupils

By Aline Nassif
Published on Thursday 7 July 2011 12:27

PORTSMOUTH’S only academy has been accused by secondary school headteachers of breaking an agreement to take on troubled pupils who need a fresh start.

Charter Academy, which took over failing St Luke’s in September 2009, has been criticised for ‘engineering’ its pupil intake by palming off problem kids on to other schools – but refusing to accept similar youngsters from other schools.

Academy’s sponsor ARK has vehemently denied the charge, claiming it opted out of the system in December after being forced to take a disproportionately high number of children from neighbouring schools with problems.

However Portsmouth City Council is so worried it has reported the issue to the Secretary of State for Education.

Mike Smith, speaking on behalf of all his colleagues as chairman of Portsmouth’s secondary heads, said: ‘What Charter is doing is outrageous.

‘When it first became an academy we were given assurances it would fully co-operate and wanted to work with Portsmouth schools. That has turned out to be a hollow sham.

‘A fresh start can make a real difference to a child, but Charter realises it can’t get the exam results it predicted and is now manipulating its school population make its figures look better.’

Each month about five secondary schoolchildren across Portsmouth who are persistently disruptive, aggressive or refuse to play by school rules are transferred to other schools in what are known as ‘managed moves’.

The council says in 2009/10 Charter removed five pupils, accepted two and refused one.

And last year it moved on seven pupils, accepted one and refused two.

Niel McLeod, head of Miltoncross – which is set to become an academy – called Charter’s actions ‘unacceptable’.

He added: ‘Our moral duty in doing the job is to look after all the children in the city between us.

‘Even as an academy we will continue to do that.’

Leader of the council Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Charter is beginning to look like the worst sort of academy – the kind that doesn’t want to work with anybody else and just wants to dump more difficult pupils on to other schools.

‘We are doing everything in our power to get them to play ball.’

Lesley Smith, spokeswoman for ARK, said the council’s figures were wrong, and that Charter moved on five pupils and accepted five pupils in 2009/10.

She added: ‘In September 2010 we set up a facility for children needing additional help and have not sent out any children to other schools since then.

‘Charter has a disproportionately high number of hard-to-place students, through managed moves, which in June stood at 3.57 per cent compared with the other schools. We feel this is unfair and have decided to opt out until we are confident the managed moves are more fairly distributed.

‘Charter is serving local children and it is not the case that we are refusing to participate.’


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Capita accused of making excess profits from Academy conversions

Headteachers overseeing the conversion of their schools to academy status had complained they are being slapped with huge bills, often as much as £20,000, just to change the licence on their school’s back-office computer software.
The systems are critical to the running of a school, covering almost every part of its administration, from registration and attainment to controlling dinner money and admissions. Capita’s own version, called Sims, is used by some 20,000 schools in England and controls about 80 per cent of the market.
One primary, St Patrick’s Academy in Solihull, was charged “consultancy” costs of around £1,150 a day to help it convert, on top of re-licensing costs of about £15,000.

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