The headteachers of Scarcroft, Knavesmire and Millthorpe schools want them to work together to form an Academy. Some parents, however, have doubts. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

THERE is a question that Adam Cooper, head of Knavesmire primary school, has been asked about why his school should to join with Scarcroft primary and Millthorpe to form a three-school academy.

It is this: why change the status quo when it works?

There's a simple answer, Mr Cooper says. "There isn't a status quo at the moment."

It's an uncompromising assessment of the changes sweeping through our schools nationwide. But it is one that is clearly shared by his fellow heads - Anna Cornhill at Scarcroft and Trevor Burton at Millthorpe.

"These are very turbulent times for education," says Mr Burton. "Very turbulent. And there's a five year storm coming ."

It is Mr Burton and his two fellow heads who have found themselves at the centre of a bit of a storm since the proposals for a 'multi-academy trust' made up of Millthorpe and the two primaries first emerged in March, however.

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Millthorpe School

Some parents have claimed that the proposal would amount almost to privatisation by the back door - that's nonsense, the heads say - and that the consultation has been rushed. Others have called for a decision on the three schools' future to be put to a vote of parents, rather than being left to school governors to decide once the consultation period closes on June 19.

Even York Central MP Rachael Maskell has weighed into the debate - calling on the three schools' governors to halt the process for now, before launching a fresh consultation in September.

The three heads themselves admit that it is they who are driving forward the academy proposal - although they stress it will be the governors who decide.

So why are they so convinced an academy is the right way forward for the three schools ?

It all comes down to that five year storm - and to the uncertainty and changing climate that all schools are facing.

Local authority budgets have been massively squeezed in the past few years, with the result that whereas City of York Council once had 40 education professionals who visited schools regularly to advise on how they could improve, it will soon have only four, Mr Burton says. What professional support there is from the council tends to be concentrated - quite rightly - on weaker schools. So there is less benefit to successful schools such as Millthorpe, Scarcroft and Knavesmire of staying within the council fold.

Schools budgets themselves are also now being squeezed. Until 2014, they went up broadly in line with pay, Mr Burton says. But schools have now been told they will receive no funding to cover the cost to them as employers of the increased national insurance and pensions contributions they have to make for their staff. And they have also been told that for several years there will be no increase in their 'per pupil' funding - a school's core funding. The impact of that, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, will be a 12 per cent cut in real terms over the next four years, Mr Burton says.

There are changes to the exams system and to school curriculums in the offing, too. And then there is the Conservative government's commitment to rolling out more academies across the country. Education secretary Nicky Morgan recently announced that up to 1,000 more schools would be academies by the next election.

So things are going to change in local schools whatever happens. The question for the three schools' governors to decide will be whether their schools will be better placed to weather the storm and continue to improve under the city council, or as part of a three-school academy.

An increasing number of York schools are already going down the academy route. There are already four primary schools which are academies (Haxby Road, Poppleton Ousebank, Huntington Primary Academy and Robert Wilkinson) and two secondaries (Manor CE Academy and Archbishop Holgate). aAll the signs are that more will follow.

Nevertheless, when the heads of thirteen South Bank schools met last December to set up a working party to look into the pros and cons of academies, Mr Burton, Mr Cooper and Anna Cornhill never dreamed they would be going down the academy route. "At the time we all said we didn't think we were likely to academies," Mr Burton says.

So what changed their minds?

Mr Burton believes there could be a real risk in doing nothing. Set up an academy now, and the three schools can design the way they would like to work together, and the academy model they develop. Decide not to take the plunge, and, the way things are going, there is a real possibility that some way down the line they would end up as academies anyway - and possibly being managed one of the large 'academy chains' that are taking over schools across the country.

The schools are all successful - Scarcroft and Knavesmire both rated excellent by Ofsted, Millthorpe rated good - so they would be forming the academy from a position of strength.

There would be financial benefits. Operating as members of a three-school 'multi academy trust' (MAT), the schools would each get an extra 2 per cent funding per pupil - and would also be able to bid for grants from a central pot only open to academies.

The three heads believe that the three schools, working together, would have 'greater freedom to build the curriculum' around the needs of their pupils. And they would also be able to support each-other in a way that they haven't been doing up until now: working together to make sure standards continue to improve, and that children moving on to Millthorpe from Scarcroft and Knavesmire have a smoother 'transition'; and sharing facilities and experience.

Then there is the question of the need for a new primary school somewhere in the South Bank area. The demand for extra school places in South Bank is huge. If a new school were to be built, it could only be built as a free school or as an academy. There would be a tendering process to find who should run the new school. And having a strong academy trust in the area would mean it was well placed to successfully bid to take on the new school, rather than leaving it potentially to be taken over by an outside academy chain.

Ultimately, they believe a multi-academy trust made up of their three schools working together would offer the best guarantee of a good education for their children in future.

It will be up to the schools' governors, however, to decide. All governors will read the representations made by parents and others. So if you have a view, you have until June 19 to make your voice heard.

You can find out more, and have your say, via the schools' websites:, and


The parent's view

Parent Jonny Crawshaw has a daughter at Scarcroft. He is opposed to the 'academisation' of the three schools. Here is why: "I do not doubt the Heads’ desires to future-proof the schools, but under the national Academies programme we are sleep-walking into a fragmented, privatised education system in which profit-making will be explicitly permitted in the future.

"Ideologies aside, I am unconvinced that Academising benefits the three schools locally. Successful schools have excellent teaching and strong leadership, and these three currently possess both. However, studies show small MATs struggle without an executive head – the three equal leaders in this proposal will be forced to spend time, effort and resource maintaining relationships as they shape the Trust and they risk their unique qualities being diluted within the whole.

Most of the proposed benefits – greater collaborative working, peer support, shared resources (including staff), joint purchasing – are all available to these schools currently. Indeed, they already happen successfully within other clusters across York.

The education sector is undoubtedly in a period of flux with much uncertainty ahead. However, I want good schools for all children, not a market-based approach to education with schools in competition for pupils and their funding. Academising - particularly now - seems like a giant leap into the unknown with significant associated risks and for no significant reward."


The schools' guarantees

The three schools have given certain guarantees about what will happen should the academy go ahead. These include: BLOB There would be no change of name BLOB There would be no change of uniform BLOB There would be no change to the distinct ethos of each school BLOB All three schools would continue with their existing admissions procedures. Children from other local primaries would continue to be able to go to Millthorpe BLOB There would be no executive head. all three schools would continue to have their own heads, and would be equal partners The governors of all three schools will vote independently.

The headteachers say they do not believe allowing parents a vote would work. The issue is too complex for a simple yes/ no vote, they say, plus it would be difficult to know which parents to include and which to leave out. Governors are legally constituted to take decisions about the school' future, they point out.


What is an academy?

Academies are classed as independent state schools with the freedom to determine their own policies in areas such as the curriculum, school hours, term dates, staff roles and service providers. They are accountable to the Secretary of State for education, not the local authority.

Academies are managed by their own academy trust and are no longer the responsibility of the council. they receive funding direct from the government. This means that they get slightly more money per pupil, as money is no longer held back by the council to fund central services. This gives them greater freedom about how to spend money.


What the politicians say

Conservative council leader Chris Steward: "As an individual I support academies. but it is the school governors who should make decisions about the best way forward for their school, not politicians."

Liberal Democrat deputy leader of the council Keith Aspden: "York Liberal Democrats believe that the council-led Local Education Authority model provides the most effective accountability for parents and pupils over the curriculum, teaching, resources and admissions."

Labour opposition leader Dafydd Williams called for parents to have a vote, so as to give school governors an idea of the strength of opinion for and against an academy when the governors came to decide.