Foundry School is in the Winson Green area of Birmingham, an area of transition and deprivation. I have been a governor there for some 20 years, but now it looks like the end of the line. A few months ago the school emerged from special measures in what everyone considered a remarkably short time. This was after enormous effort on behalf of the school leadership, staff and governors. Our euphoria has been short lived after one Mr Driscoll came to school and returned is to special measures.
To come out of special measures meant that the school must have made tangible improvement, however by the time Mr Driscoll arrived there had not been time for results to kick in. The other aspect is that schools in special measures are open to being forced into becoming academies. At least that is what we are being told, but when challenges have been made it seems it ain’t necessarily so!
Mr Driscoll was followed into school by one Rob Briscoe (I keep confusing the two) who came with local authority reps in tow to meet the Governors. The first thing Sue Twells, a Birmingham officer, mentioned was that Foundry could be considered for closure. The debate turned to us making a case against school closure with the academy status issue lost from sight. Sue Twells had already told us that we could not avoid becoming an academy, at which point I responded that it sounded like we were being bullied. The current Cabinet Member for Children’s Services in Birmingham, Brigid Jones, had sent a letter to all school saying that no school would be forced into privatisation, so why were City officers saying something different?
As for Mr Briscoe, he was somewhat impressed with the arguments that governors made in support of Foundry. As a result he kindly arranged a meeting with a possible sponsor. At least it seemed a kind thought at the time. We learn a little, since Mr Briscoe it turns out is not an inspector, but is employed directly by the DFE as a hit man whose job it is to bring in the academies.
Governors were treated to a presentation by two gentlemen from Oasis Academies who are interested in taking on around 9 Birmingham primary schools. The governors were all impressed by the sales pitch, particularly on their expressed concern with community involvement. The outcome was for an attempt to get an immediate decision that we would work with Mr Briscoe to become an academy sponsored by Oasis.
The next day I began to search out Oasis Academies on the internet. It was full of glowing reports of their secondary academies. That[s not what I was looking for however.
I found an independent reference to their primary school, Shirley Park, in Croydon. The report tells us that the school did significantly worse than the state school it replaced, and is one of the 200 worst performing schools in the country. Croydon will not allow it to take over any more of its schools.
Results for secondary academies were also poor, with Oasis being second from bottom among the private bodies setting up chains of schools across the country. State schools are narrowly beaten by just one chain when GCSE and equivalents are recorded. Mr Briscoe, why are you recommending ours school joins a group which can’t demonstrate good performance, particularly when you have expressed concern about Foundry’s performance? (I was interested to hear that at least one Birmingham head teacher had marched him off the premises!)
The Chair of Governors made it her business to invite union representatives to speak to governors. The euphoria around Oasis has now worn off and when we learned about the possibility of co-operatives. where schools link with high-performing schools, we felt we needed to explore alternatives which were not put to us previously.
On-line references to Oasis Academies
E-Act academy boss’s pay
Oasis Community Learning
Oasis Community Learning is a subsidiary charity formed by Oasis Trust as an umbrella group to govern the Oasis Academies which are secondary schools classed as academies. The first three academies in Enfield Lock, Grimsby and Immingham, opened in September 2007, with six more, two in Bristol, two in Southampton, two in Croydon and one in Salford, that opened in September 2008. Other academies in Enfield Highway and Croydon opened in September 2009. Oasis have continued to open further academies around the country and as of the end of 2011 now runs 14 schools.
In August 2010, Oasis began its first private school in the upper-market Bristol suburb of Westbury-on-Trym. The Bristol City Council bought the site and Oasis were given a one year lease. It was part of a rescue deal to save the St. Ursula’s School which was on the site but went into administration with a debt of £2 million owned by the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters originally rejected the Oasis deal but gave in eventually after the bank and trustees agreed with it. The intention was to make it into an academy the following year however their bids failed and another provider will run a primary academy on the site. It closed on 15 July 2011.