A report by parent Mohammed Ashraf
Earlier this year I led the campaign at Montgomery Primary School against forced academy conversion. We campaigned for parents to have a say in the future of the school. Sadly, despite overwhelming opposition from the school community, governors took the decision to proceed with conversion, choosing AET (Academy Enterprise Trust) as the sponsor in March this year.
AET held a consultation meeting with parents. Like many others I had concerns, but I was reassured at the meeting that AET would be working very closely with the school, parents and the community through the transition. Many questions and worries were raised but reassurances were given. For example parents were concerned about changes to uniform and to the school name. They were assured any changes would by fully consulted with parents first. Reassurances were given that AET wanted to work with parents as partners.
Not long after this a position arose in June 2012 for a parent governor and many parents encouraged me to apply. Montgomery Primary was still a community school, but one about to embark on a significant period of transition. I saw this as an opportunity to represent parents at this critical time. I was voted onto the governing body by parents. I was prepared to give AET an opportunity to convince me that an AET Academy was the way forward. However, since being elected I have attended various full governor meetings but AET have always failed to attend. As far as I am aware, their only involvement has been to recommend a consultant to help Montgomery Primary School out of Special Measures. The bill for this consultant is not being paid for by AET, but by Montgomery Primary School.
No further consultation meetings with parents have taken place although parents had expected at least two more. At a governors’ meeting on Wednesday 12th Sept 2012, again a no-show from AET, we were told AET wanted us to choose there and then a name for the school and a uniform colour so that they could take over the school on 1st Oct 2012. There followed a heated discussion as governors were unhappy that AET had not consulted with parents. The view of AET was that parent governors should be able to make the decision as they are the parents’ representatives. Why did AET give parents false hope at a consultation meeting that they would be consulted on changes? Where is the partnership parents were assured of?
At that meeting no decisions on name or uniform were taken as it was agreed AET were to be asked for more time. Seven days later a special meeting was arranged between governors and AET – finally a chance for AET to answer some questions.
On Wed 19th Sept 2012 two representatives of AET and one from the Local Authority arrived. The representative from AET in his opening statement told us that almost everyday he had visited Castle Vale School which is also due to become an Academy. This resulted in bemused looks on governors’ faces as the Governing Body had been waiting for a glimpse of an AET representative at their meetings for months. But apparently they are prioritising other schools. Are our children less important? He reassured us that AET are a non profit-making charity and he wouldn’t work for them if they were making a profit, but then he went on to say that Birmingham cares about childrens’ education as ‘Birmingham pays more’ and that is why AET are here. The two statements sat uncomfortably together, and began to smack of hypocrisy as it became clear that he was not interested in listening to our concerns, in answering our questions or in honouring the promises made to the community. His only concern was to finalise a name there and then so AET could take over within 2 weeks.
It was clear to me that the reassurances AET had given that they wanted to work with parents as partners were empty promises and that the Governing Body under AET would never be more than a puppet organisation with little influence and no real decision-making power.
I resigned along with two other governors in protest at the way AET had treated the governors and deceived the parents. If you are a school governor and are being told by one of the big chains that they will work with parents, my advice is beware – it is an empty promise. What I have seen as a governor of a school in the process of conversion is that it is ALL about the money. I am angry about how my community school is being exploited and I really fear for the future as more and more of our schools become businesses and lose accountability to the communities they serve. I really hope other schools have a better experience and that commitments from their sponsors are fulfilled and not hollow promises as has been the case at Montgomery Primary School at the hands of AET.
Michael Gove has called critics of his academy plans ‘enemies of promise’. His statement would have more credibility if his sponsors were able to honour their promises.