Letter to the Kenton School Chair of Governors regarding academy conversion

05 September 2011


Jacqueline McHanwell
Chair of Governors
Kenton School


Dear Jackie,

I hope you are well.  I am writing to you as Chair of Governors ahead of the vote on Kenton becoming an Academy. I hope you will pass on my thoughts to the other Governors and I am cc-ing David [Pearmain].

The future of Kenton School is a matter of great interest to me.  As MP for Newcastle Central I represent many of the pupils of the school, and their parents.  From a personal perspective such success as I have enjoyed both as an engineer and a politician is due in a large part to the school, and its excellent teachers.   I was therefore dismayed to learn Kenton School plans to remove itself from the control of the Local Authority, which is to say the people of Newcastle.

I have read David Pearmain’s letter to parents and it seems that the motivation to become an Academy is principally financial, ie in the expectation of additional funding as an Academy. Combined with concern as to the financial difficulties experienced by Newcastle Council because of the cuts imposed by central government.

I want to highlight to you the dangers of taking such a far-reaching decision on the basis of short term financial considerations.

If Academies are benefiting from additional funding then Parliament should take steps to ensure funding is more equitably distributed. The Government is currently analysing responses to its Fair Funding Review and it is sure to be debated in the House.  We cannot anticipate the outcome.

Whilst it is true that Newcastle City Council has to implement cuts, it is under new control and looking at innovative ways of strengthening services.  It is certainly not the case that it is ‘in decline’ as David’s letter states.

If there are general grievances with regard to how Newcastle Council is working with the School I could better understand the desire to become an Academy but these are not mentioned. The only non financial consideration mentioned is a generalised desire to be at the forefront of a new educational movement.

I would have thought the best way to be at the forefront of education was to ensure excellent teachers offer excellent classes whilst remaining accountable to the people of Newcastle, whose children the school aspires to educate.

I do not see how Academies are accountable to anyone apart from themselves and the Secretary of State for Education. This is a matter of grave concern.  Parents, staff and pupils surely have a right to know the school can be held accountable?  Promises with regard to admission and employment practises cannot be considered credible otherwise.

I take an intense interest in the quality of education in Newcastle as it is so critical to our city’s future. I hope you will consider the long term impact on the city of your decision.

Yours sincerely,
Chi Onwurah MP


c.c. David Pearmain – Headteacher, Kenton School
Cllr Joanna Kingsland – Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Newcastle City Council

6 thoughts on “Letter to the Kenton School Chair of Governors regarding academy conversion

  1. David Stockdale

    Chi, as a former pupil of Kenton School I too am extremely concerned at these proposals. Aside from academies being an affront to a locally accountable and democratically elected council they are also flawed in their long term strategy. What happens if an academy fails without the security of the local authority to support them? What happens if the government’s plans for the majority of schools to convert to academies comes to fruition and local authority responsibility is replaced with market driven education provision? Michael Gove has already made it clear that he has no objections to companies profiting from running schools (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/31/michael-gove-academy-schools-profit) Is this what we want for our children? Profit driven schools?!?

    The fact remains that no one, not even the Education Secretary, can provide any real evidence that academies will work. This entire process is a gamble and I think the education of our children is far too important to risk on something that is ideologically driven. One head teacher and a handful of school governors do not have the right to promote a political agenda consciously or otherwise.

    This must be stopped!

  2. Dan Bowen

    Chi, I am a Teacher of nearly 13 years and Governor at Kenton School, elected democratically by my colleagues. I was one of only two Governors at Kenton who voted against the Academy proposal and I would very much like to discuss the issue with you in detail. Please contact me at the email address I have provided, at your earliest convenience.

    Thank you.

  3. Steve Cohen

    It has to be recognised that like all its promises of giving power to those who provide a service, whether it is latest shake up of NHS, planning decisions being taken by ad hoc groups of any 20 people who care to call themselves a Planning Forum, or the drive for Academies these powers will always be subject government control.

    If David Pearmain and the Governors are happy to subject themselves to the varying whims of Secretary State Michael Gove and his successors that’s up to them, but they are responsible for the education of over 2,000 pupils. Their successors will be responsible for the education of many thousands more.

    Unless the governors have been promised something of one sort or another, which they aren’t happy to disclose in public, they are gambling with children’s future lives for an imaginary benefit.

  4. Other Paul

    Although most of Mr Pearson’s response comes across as thoughful and considerate, and even largely on-side, I do find it quite annoying when somebody tells me (as he does, more than once) that I’m ‘misreading an intention’ behind a proposed plan.

    It’s a little patronising and suggests either (at worst) that there’s a spin-failure or (at best) that I’ve misunderstood. I reads what I reads, is what I say.

    Responses such as these mostly come across as ‘We hear what you say. Now run along while we do what we wanted to do anyway, there’s a good chap’.

  5. Stephen

    As a former pupil at Kenton, and now a headteacher in Cornwall, I can only think that Kenton gaining further freedoms by becoming an academy school will be good for all the pupils at Kenton.

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