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Forced to become an academy

  • Forced to become an academy

Having battled its way from failing to ‘good’, Weyfield Primary was still forced to become an academy. Parents were less than pleased, says Maja Pawinska Sims...

On the first day of spring term this year, our brilliant headteacher disappeared; a letter came home saying simply that he had resigned. The letter had a logo on it many parents had not noticed before. It had been on letterheads and signage since February 2013, but most of us had taken little notice. The logo was that of The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), which now runs around 40 schools across the south of England. I heard several mums on the way home from pick-up that day saying ‘What’s TKAT?’

Most parents hadn’t really noticed the logo because, until that point, TKAT had meant nothing to us. However, in the days and weeks that followed our head’s shock departure, what came out in the media made it clear that we should have been paying much, much closer attention.

I’ve charted the roller-coaster story of Weyfield Primary Academy in Guildford on my blog. In 2012, it was a failing school, in the most demographically-challenging area of an otherwise affluent city. SATs had been below floor forever. The wonderful teachers were trying their best, but lacked support and leadership. Then Simon Wood arrived, a bundle of positive energy with brilliant ideas to turn our school around. Which he did: within 12 months, we’d jumped up two Ofsted grades to ‘good’ across the board. The whole feel of the school was transformed.

The day after we celebrated our Ofsted, we became a TKAT academy.

It was a fraught process. The DfE had told the governing body, in no uncertain terms, that we would be academising – even before our new head arrived. The exceptional, rapid progress the school made thereafter was irrelevant. TKAT looked like a reasonable option, and discussions were opened, but after months of poor communication, the SLT decided it would be best – if we still had to become an academy – to go with the local partnership. Former governors have since made public their claims this is when the bullying and threatening behaviour started, from the DfE and TKAT. Our now-thriving school was essentially – and pointlessly – forced not only into academisation, but into a relationship that was strained from the outset.

Parents were protected from all of this. We never knew there had been a local option. We had no idea about TKAT’s reputation. We were told, at a meeting with TKAT soon after academisation, that they would not interfere and the only thing they had the power to change was the head. We all laughed, because who on Earth would get rid of such a successful leader?

Eleven months later, as we came home from school in shock, how naïve we felt. Teachers have since alleged that, behind the scenes, TKAT’s involvement was a deadly mix of poor communication, goal-post shifting, obsessive data collection and extreme pressure on the leadership team. I don’t think anyone could blame Simon Wood for having had enough. Many other staff have since left.

We quickly formed a parents’ campaigning group to put pressure on TKAT and, ideally, force them out of our school. We learnt that teachers and governors had been effectively gagged, and it was down to us. We shouted loudly and often, on the front cover of the local paper and in the Guardian. We got our local MP Anne Milton involved, and she was fantastically supportive, writing letters all over the place and calling TKAT to explain its track record of ‘losing’ heads. We were told repeatedly that there was no way out of an academy contract within the seven year period, except by mutual consent.

Just before Easter, I was invited to a meeting with Anne Milton at the Houses of Parliament, along with TKAT CEO Karen Roberts. She promised us that TKAT did care, did want to keep Weyfield, and would try and put things right.

Things are now settling down after a traumatic few months. I don’t honestly think we will ever get rid of TKAT, but I am very glad that we stood up for our school and made a huge fuss not only about being forced into academising, but about a questionable organisation that managed to completely lose the trust of an entire school community. They’ve appointed a new head – a part time consultant, but we will give him a chance – and we are working with the chair of governors to explore ways of giving parents more of a voice. We haven’t downed tools yet: we’re still observing carefully, and we won’t hesitate to take action if our children’s education is compromised.

About the author

Maja Pawinska Sims is a journalist, PR consultant, and parent at Weyfield Primary Academy. Find her blog at pinchypants.wordpress.com

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