Why recinding all the Academy Orders mattered

As we have posted on Facebook and Twitter, the Academy Orders for ALL three schools have been rescinded.

A victory is important, but a proper victory is not only satisfying but it also sends an unequivocal message that at every turn both the Federation and the Secretary of State have to account for their every action and every word.

The attempt to change the law, partly in response to the legal challenges made to the Federation’s Academy Order process are designed to remove the last vestiges of democratic accountability for education.

This time last year, many of us had no idea about the way the schools our children are educated in are managed and governed, certainly in Lewisham that is no longer the case, We now understand that the Governors have enormous power. But we also now understand that a community campaign where students, parents, and staff at the school are united can win, and will not just walk away and let the education system be decoupled from the needs of our community.

If the law is changed as envisaged it will make it easier to create an Academy, but the Governors can be in no doubt that, it is not something that the local community want, it is (as the evidence is now showing) a high risk strategy for improving pupils outcomes, and they DO NOT have to do this.

When the Governors meet in the autumn, they should be under no illusions that if they thought 2013/14 was bruising, then 2014/15 will be even more so.

Have a great summer

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The Legal Challenge explained

For the record, our legal team explain how the challenge was mounted resulting in the rescinding of all three Academy Orders. There will be a further post on why it was important to follow through to the end.

The challenge

In May 2015 a formal letter of claim was written under the judicial review pre-action protocol threatening Judicial Review proceedings against the Federation and the Secretary of State for Education. The potential claimant was a parent of a child at Prendergast School. The basis of the challenge was that the 3 academy orders for Prendergast School, Prendergast Vale and Prendergast Ladywell Fields had been made unlawfully by the Secretary of State, as the Governing Board of the Federation had acted in breach of the regulations which govern the procedure Federations must follow when applying for an academy order. The regulations set out which classes of governor must apply for an academy order. One of the classes of governor stipulated under the regulations is the staff governor. The staff governor did not vote in favour and so there appeared to be a clear breach of the regulations.

Halting the Academisation Process

The result of this was that on 22 May 2015 the Federation and the Secretary of State accepted that because the staff governor did not vote in favour of applying or the academy order, the order for Prendergast School had been made unlawfully and, so, was rescinded.

However, the Secretary of State and the Federation argued that it was only the order for Prendergast School which had been made unlawfully, as governors, despite being on the Governing Board of a Federation were actually school specific under the regulations. As the staff governor was employed at Prendergast School it was only the order for Prendergast School which had been obtained unlawfully.

Despite the Claimant’s solicitors having some doubts as to whether the Secretary of State was correct in her interpretation of the regulations, the point of the challenge was to halt the Academisation of the three schools and not to argue the point as her interpretation as it still allowed us to come back at some later time that the other 2 orders had also been made unlawfully.

Challenging the Orders for Vale & Ladywell Fields

The wording of the Regulations meant there were three classes of governor required to vote in favour this included staff, parent and head teachers.

In the case of Prendergast (Ladywell Fields) the parent governor did not attend the meeting when the decision was taken to apply for an order, despite being in office.

Further, our assumption had been that when the regulations referred to “head teacher” we had assumed that meant head teacher of the Federation. However, if the Secretary of State was right and governors had to be school specific, then head teacher must mean the head teacher of each individual school. Although the head teachers attend Governing Board meetings they are not members and so do not vote. Therefore the order for Prendergast Vale had also been made unlawfully, as the head teacher did not vote for it.

This argument also applied to the other 2 schools but there were other classes of governor who did not vote in favour so we did not have to rely on the head teacher point..

There then was extensive correspondence between instructing solicitors and Secretary of State.

The original Claimant had was a parent of a Prendergast (Hilly Fields) student so there was a strong argument that he did not have “locus” in respect of the other 2 schools – in other words he had no direct interest in them and so had no right to bring proceedings against the granting of the orders in respect of Vale and Ladywell Fields. Another Claimant was identified (with hours to spare) who was the parent of a child at Vale.

In the end after numerous letters another formal letter of claim was written on 16 July, threatening legal proceedings in 14 days unless the other 2 orders were rescinded. On 28 July we were written to by Secretary of State, who informed us that the Chair of Governors had written to the Secretary of State requesting that the other 2 orders be rescinded and the Secretary of State agreed to that request.

Leathersellers’ back down – heads must roll

The letter posted on the Federation website yesterday that the Leathersellers’ Federation have ‘defer[red] the current conversion process]’ which still avoids the question of whether the orders for Vale and Ladywell have been rescinded raises questions about the role of the Governing Board as a whole and the judgement of the Chairman and Executive Head.

The letter says that the Governing Board have taken this decision, to our knowledge there has been no meeting since the legal action and we look forward to the minutes if such a meeting took place.

They were warned

During the phoney war whilst the Working Party ‘deliberated’, they were warned that there would be opposition. But they also failed to understand the scale and nature of that opposition.

As a campaign we have been deeply critical of The Mayor, and Frankie Sulke (Director for Children and Young People) especially over Sedgehill, but an experienced local politician he understood the storm approaching the Leathersellers’ was not to be treated lightly. And he told them so, but they were either too arrogant or too ignorant to understand.

At the 9 December 2014 Board, on the very day there was a strike across Sedgehill and the Prendergast schools and the campaign against academisation was starting to catch fire.

The minutes of the previous Board were amended to ‘correct their misunderstanding of the Local Authority’s views’. [insertions are underlined]

“the message conveyed by FS, of support to the proposals , having heard the reasoning behind the decision to consider a MAT conversion, that, while whatever decision is made, she will continue to support the Leathersellers’ and the Federation, her concern was that there should be no distraction from the focus on raising achievement at the schools. FS informed that the Mayor was interested in meeting with us to discuss; according to FS, he understood the idea of sponsored academies, but was less convinced by the arguments for conversion academies. That said, we were informed that he had an open mind would want to hear about our plans but was supportive of the Federation’s move subject to meeting and discussing our reasoning

and reference to the Mayor was changed to

“the Mayor offered his support in the event that the Federation’s GB decided to pursue Academy conversion, though he did explain that there might be some opposition that the Federation  might would have to deal with”

The Board failed to take sufficient advice

Chris Wheal has been doing some fantastic work on the secrecy in the run up to the Academy Order at Not being Secret. Where he comes to the conclusion that:

“We do know that the working party did not seek any legal advice of its own. All the legal advice had, conveniently, been received prior to the setting up of the working party. We have to assume it was either the executive head, David Sheppard, or the chair of governors, Christopher Barrow.”

and

“The working party did not look at all the options and independently recommend academy status – it was established to look only at academy status, with legal advice only on that specific option”.

As the Public Debate were told in no uncertain terms by the Executive Head (David Sheppard) that “the Governors are responsible” and “they will make the decision“.

The Governing Board should hold the Chairman and the Executive Head to account and demand they do the honourable thing and call for their resignation

VICTORY!

We have great pleasure in announcing that the Leathersellers’ have rescinded the academy orders for ALL THREE SCHOOLS in the Prendergast Federation.

Over the last few months NUT members and other trade union colleagues at the Prendergast Federation, together with students and parents, have mounted a tremendous campaign to oppose the damaging academy conversion proposals. Demonstrations, strikes, meetings – and now legal challenges over Government Regulations – have all helped to keep up the pressure on Governors to think again – and now they have! This is a major breakthrough for the campaign. It reflects the pressure that has built up over months, culminating in legal challenges that have left Governors with little option but to pull back from their plans. Every union member who has struck, every student that has demonstrated and every parent, SAIL campaigner and letter writer should be proud of themselves for standing firm and refusing to accept that the academy steamroller was unstoppable. The campaign has shown the lack of public support for academies and the lack of any evidence that academies help education. Although this is not yet a final victory. “The DfE will want to rewrite their Regulations so that the Prendergast Federation and other federated schools can start over with their plans. “However, we hope that Prendergast Governors will resist DfE pressure to do so and instead win back the goodwill of the school community in the interests of education” As parent Ned Boulting said, quoted in the Guardian,

“governors have created a rift [that] will raise questions with teachers as to whether they want to stay on at the school”.

Unless or until the Governors withdraw their academy plans altogether, then the dispute still continues. However, for now, the proposed strike action on June 3rd and 4th has been withdrawn. We are confident that, boosted by today’s news, staff, students and parents will be ready to continue their campaign if necessary. Let’s savour the moment

Thank you – Striking Teachers and Staff

Picket Line - Prendergast Vale

Picket Line – Prendergast Vale

Thank you – Defiant Pupils

Strike at Prendergast Hilly Fields - 4th March

Strike at Prendergast Hilly Fields – 4th March

Thank you – Feisty Protesters

After the Leatherseller's demonstration

After the Leathersellers’ demonstration

Thank you – the local community who came out marching

demo_april_2015

Marching April 2015

Thank you – our Legal Team

no photo’s – but you know who are!

Legal Action Success – but keep up the pressure

The breaking news on Friday that the Federation has rescinded the academy order for Prendergast (Hilly Fields) was very welcome news. However, the decision to carry on regardless with Vale and Ladywell Fields is confirmation (in spite of their protestations to the contrary – of being undecided until the consultation has completed) that the Governing Body is hell bent on this conversion.

The order was rescinded because of a challenge to the academy order for Prendergast Hilly Fields by a parent, that because the Staff Governor had not voted in favour – the order was invalid.

But I hear you say – how can the academy orders for Vale and Ladywell be valid – well of course the answer is – that is that they are not – they just haven’t got a legal challenge against them.

If the Governor’s had any decency they would have admitted they have been caught out and withdrawn the applications from Vale and Ladywell Fields.

So why have they carried on?

We already know from the MAT Working Party report that they have taken advice from the DfE South Division, Academies Group. The letters between the Federation and the Department of Education which were posted on the Federation website gives us an insight into this advice from an impartial civil service.

Barrow writes to the DfE at 3pm rescinding the academy order.

.Less that 90 minutes later, the DfE write in response to the letter from Barrow saying

“It would appear that our policy has progressed since the legislation was laid. I will inform the governing body about how they should proceed with this as soon as possible”

The DfE further advise that they should continue to proceed with the orders for Vale and Ladywell and add.

“It is disappointing that this issue has delayed the academy conversion of a school when the majority of the governing body voted in favour of the applications.”

Now, we have been told repeatedly that the issue has not been decided until the Governing Board meet in June after the consultation, do the DfE think that the conversion takes place irrespective of the consultation?

In spite of the DfE and the Governors knowing that the process is flawed they continue anyway.

The letters indicate that the DfE will bring changes to the law, to remove the requirement that a staff governor or parent governor have to vote in favour.

Looks like a job for our recently elected MPs. We would also like to know how many other schools have been converted where the legislation has been followed correctly.

DON’T FORGET TO KEEP THE SUBMISSIONS TO THE CONSULTATION COMING IN, see our Consultation Guidance.

Get your response into the consultation

The deadline for responses to the consultation is 8 June. We have prepared some guidance if you are stuck for words. To respond using the feedback form at http://www.leathersellers-federation.com/206/mat-consultation-papers or just want to email directly at consultation@leathersellers-federation.com (if you do please put Academy Conversion Question in the email header), or by writing to The Clerk to Governors, c/o Prendergast School, Adelaide Avenue, London SE4 1LE.

The guidance can be found at Consultation Guidance Document