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'Cambridge Academic Partnership teachers feel betrayed over United Learning academy plans'


By Gemma Gardner


A teacher says staff feel betrayed over plans for a group of Cambridge schools to join a nationwide multi-academy trust.

He spoke out over plans for Cambridge Academic Partnership (CAP) to join one of England’s largest academy chains, United Learning.

School classroom, stock picture (7657039)
School classroom, stock picture (7657039)

“We feel betrayed,” the teacher, who asked not to be named, told the Cambridge Independent. “Staff work really hard and work really hard for the students, but we feel that the people at the top are not working for the students.

“It’s been done. We don’t know who these new people are. They don’t know who we are. They are not based in Cambridge or anywhere locally at all.”

CAP hope to be join United Learning in September, 2019. A submission will be made to the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) headteacher board in the summer term to finalise the move.

Education chiefs say the move will help the schools achieve their ambitions against a backdrop of government funding cuts.

Cambridgeshire is one of the worst funded education authorities in England. The county receives £400 less per child than the average funded authority and £1,600 less per child than Westminster.

A growing number of schools are adopting drastic measures to plug the funding gap.

At Abbey Meadows Primary School in Cambridge, which is set to join CAP, the opening hours were rearranged in 2017 to save money and support its teachers.

There, the school day starts at 8.35am and finishes at 3.15pm for reception and Year 1 and 2 and 3.20pm for Key Stage 2 pupils on Mondays to Thursday.

On Fridays, the school day runs from 8.35am to 1.30pm. The changes, which were put to parents before being implemented, mean that teachers non-contact time can be held on Friday afternoons when the school does not need to pay for cover.

CAP say the trust devoted the month of February to seeking the views of staff about the proposal including holding meetings in each school, and providing a specific email address for comments and queries.

A letter to parents on Wednesday (March 6) said that the decision to join United Learning was approved by the CAP Board on January 21.

A petition has also been launched by parents who believe it is “premature to proceed” without discussions about a local alternative.

The staff member, who said his school was struggling to afford photocopying and buying books, added: “We feel we were lied to. People knew this was going to happen and nobody said anything at all.

“[There was] no consultation and no information apart from one email with two letters. From that we’ve had the opportunity to go to a meeting with a chief executive but there was no point. The decision has already been made.”

The trust denied parents and staff had been misled.

The teacher pointed out this has also happened while staff are busy preparing students for exams, forcing some to consider leaving.

“We’re being undermined,” he said, “People are looking to leave because they feel there’s no security. Very good staff are talking about leaving.”

The teacher believes the problems stem from when Parkside Federation - the schools of Parkside and Coleridge - converted to a multi-academy trust in 2011.

New secondary school Trumpington Community College and the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology then joined the trust.

“People are also upset because they that the cause of this problem is academisation of the schools,” the teacher said.

He blamed “the number of corporate staff that there were in the federation”.

“There were a lot of staff that seem to be working for the federation centrally and this is four small schools.

“The schools are only small. Parkside has only got 600 pupils. You’ve got affectively 2,000 students across the schools, which is effectively a large school, but on top of that structure is a chief executive and you’ve got a director of finance, a head HR - it’s like a large company with a huge top heavy management which is costing a large part of the budget.

“The problem that those costs are unsustainable. The only way that they can find to get out of it is to go to another chain and to remove those top heavy costs from the budgets of these four very small schools.

In 2018, the trust employed 269 members of staff which included 167 teachers. Seven members of staff were paid more than £60,000.

Funding for the county’s schools has not kept pace with inflation over recent years and although two-thirds of Cambridgeshire schools saw a modest increase in funding for 2018-19 this has been completely eroded by increasing costs including salary and pension increases, growing recruitment costs, inflation and the apprenticeship levy.

Dwindling student numbers at the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology also led to the academy carrying a deficit of £224,000, according to CAP’s latest published accounts to August 31, 2018.

“Like many UTC colleges, the ability to attract students to what is a new educational format, is proving challenging,” it says.

The academy also received an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating in 2016, which is likely to have affected pupil numbers. The school has since been improved that rating to ‘good’.

Cambridge's Labour MP Daniel Zeichner said he was very concerned about the news but said he was working with parents for “for full transparency in the process going forward”.

He said: “I have met and heard from parents unhappy that there has been no formal consultation. There are questions over future ownership of valuable land. That is why I am supporting the petition asking for full transparency in the process going forward.

“Parents want to see details of all options explored with adequate time given to the whole community, including staff and students, to provide feedback to a consultation.”

He added: “I am a strong critic of the whole system of academies and multi-academy trusts and this decision illustrates one of the main reasons why; once a school becomes an academy, structural changes can be made without consulting the local community. These schools are funded by all of us through taxation. They are our schools – and we should have a say on any changes."

In a letter to parents, CAP set out a summary of the decision-making process and what the benefits will be.

It said: "Having listened to comments and views and held further meetings over the last month and reconvened as a board, we are confident that our proposal is the right way forward for our group of schools. We believe it will enable us to:

● Provide security and certainty for the schools, their Governing Bodies and Staff, so that at a time of change they can focus on their most important task of improving the education for

students.

● Retain all the benefits of our current partnership without diluting these through merger. The

CAP brand will continue within United Learning, as will our vision of developing as a leading

learning partnership in Cambridge.

● Have a high level of local accountability. Local Governing Bodies will be recruited from

parents, staff and the wider community. We will also establish a Partnership Board to

ensure that the schools work closely together for the benefit of Cambridge as a whole. We

would be very happy to consider how this group can have local democratic membership.

● The land and buildings of the four schools will be protected so cannot be sold off for

commercial profit.

● Raise standards in all our schools. In five years time we we would hope that all our schools

will be among the highest achieving in the country, with Ofsted considering them to be

outstanding.

● Ensure that as high a percentage as possible of the money the schools receive from central government is spent directly on the young people we educate, so that we can recruit the very best teachers, offer a wide and exciting curriculum, and provide a right extra curricular offer, including areas such as arts and sports."



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