Until this weekend, Voice's policy on academies was that, while supporting its members in whatever type of setting they worked in, it was not against the existence of established academies or the opening of new ones but believed that the consultation and other processes required to establish them must be followed correctly and rigorously.
Voice had concerns about the way academies were being promoted by both the previous and current governments as some sort of panacea that would magically transform education. We have said many times that changing the way schools are organised and governed is not a guarantee of success or better education, and the mixed results from the academies established so far supports this. The key to the success of a school is the quality of the leadership, along with investment and a positive ethos and relationship with local communities.
We have expressed our alarm at the "breakneck speed" with which the current Government is rushing ahead in allowing more schools to become academies, calling for a 'less haste, more speed' approach and urging the Government to implement its programme within a practical and fair timescale, allowing a proper period of consultation with staff, parents and local communities before schools decided to change their status.
Voice's General Secretary wrote to the TES, outlining Voice's views, and our concerns about attempts to create new academies by September were supported as an impact assessment (as reported by TES and Mike Baker) threw doubt on the Government's policy.
Now Voice's Council has decided to change the union's policy to oppose the creation of any new academies.
Voice continues to support its members wherever they work but does not want to see the creation of two-tier education system which damages the ability of local authorities to deliver central support services to maintained schools.
Voice is particularly concerned about the long-term provision of support to pupils with special needs and emotional and behavioural problems and those excluded from school, and how school transport and psychology, cultural and sports services will be affected.
Voice is concerned about pay and conditions at academies. When an academy is set up to replace an existing school, staff transfer to the board or governing body of the academy with their contracts intact, including national pay and conditions, unless any contractual variation or dismissal can be justified for economic, technical or organisational reasons. On opening, academies have two sets of staff until harmonisation is reached transferred staff from the previous school and new staff recruited to the academy. As transferred staff remain protected by their exiting terms and conditions of employment for a certain amount of time while new staff are immediately subject to the academy's rules, there is scope for discontent.
Levels of pay and methods of progression are variable compared to the maintained sector, so staff may be better or worse off financially. The working day is often longer. There is sometimes a contractual obligation to remain on site when lessons are over. The meetings load can be greater. All these can contribute to increased levels of stress.
Other terms and conditions of employment for example, sick pay entitlement and notice periods may be less or more favourable.
Increasing the number of academies and the uncertainty over the future of national pay and conditions both for teachers and support staff are all potentially divisive and demotivating. They could also damage recruitment and retention, particularly in those schools not able to offer higher wages, and disrupt the movement of staff between schools.
Teaching assistants and other support staff, who are generally paid considerably less than teachers, may be particularly badly affected by the loss or erosion of any system of national pay and conditions.
Voice believes that families should have access to good-quality local education system that guarantees a good school for all, and all schools should receive the levels of investment they need to deliver that quality education.
Choice and therefore competition is not the way to produce an education system in which high-quality provision is available to all.
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