Following the controversy around the age range change proposals for Oadby's schools, I along with two of my Lib Dem colleagues wrote to the regional schools commissioner to see if we could learn more about the decision process and what parents could do to make sure that their voice is heard.
A summary of what we asked and the commissioner's reply is below:
How will you make sure that standards don't fall as a result of this big shake-up, especially considering how high they are already?
They will assess the academies as well as their plans and preparations, including staff training and development, as well as appointment of staff with appropriate experience.
They say they need to feel confident that children should not be disadvantaged or disrupted in terms of their educational experience by such a change.
What is the best way for parents to make their voice heard as part of this decision process?
The Commissioner's office recommended that parents make their voice known through the school's consultation process.
As their office only consists of 6 staff members they don't have the resources to deal with parents individually.
However, this doesn't rule out a group like SOS representing the views of a large number of parents.
Who makes the final decision? The Commissioner or Secretary of State?
The decision is made by the Commissioner but the Secretary of State can potentially challenge it.
What if one school wanted to go ahead with the change, but the others didn't?
The Commissioner recognised that for parents and stakeholders it would be preferable to have a "unified" system where all the schools did the same thing whether that's all change their age range or all stay how they currently are.
However, since the academy system is a market led one, it would be possible for one school to make the change while the others remained, allowing parents to vote with their feet.
How will evidence from Primary Schools be taken into account?
The Commissioner said they will be working closely with the local authority to ensure any decisions do not impact adversely on local Primary Schools.
The letter finished by saying:
"Please be reassured that the business cases for age range changes will be scrutinised by my Headteacher Board before any decisions are made and the education of the children and the provision in the area now and in the future is my absolute priority."
This suggests that these age range changes will only go ahead if the schools provide strong evidence that the shake-up will lead to attainment levels that at least matches existing high standards currently being attained in Oadby.
We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure high standards of proof are used when assessing these business cases.
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