We’re really fortunate to have some secondary schools in Hove and Portslade that are really doing well at improving opportunities for students and equipping them for life in our modern and entrepreneurial city. One such school is Hove Park, which has undergone a rapid improvement in student attainment and post-educational outcomes for young people. This is really fatastic.
My views on academies are pretty straightforward. I believe that academy status offers a specific set of tools which are right in some situations but not in others. Those tools include degrees of independence from local authorities; start-up funding; and more control of the curriculum and other areas of operation.
In the right circumstances and with the right leadership these tools can enable a school to develop specialisms, react swiftly to the changing needs of young people and employers, and also become more deeply rooted into the community it exists to serve. Of course the same outcomes can also be achieved within a school under full local authority control if the circumstances are right. The challenge for parents and governors at Hove Park right now is to decide which scenario is best suited deliver the aspirations they have for their own children and future generations of local residents.
I should say right now that I am chair of governors of a secondary community academy school here in Brighton and Hove. It means I am aware of the benefits academy status brought to us in that particular instance, but each community is different and must make up its own mind.
I am a committed localist and take very seriously the right of local communities to exert influence at times like this. Indeed, my PhD from Sussex University is in community development so I know full well that the bedrock of every community is its ability to care for and educate children and young people - schools are paramount.
But I also know that communities need space to air arguments and consider the views of local experts on these issues. Since this announcement I have been desperately keen to avoid politicising the already tough position that the Hove Park community is making. I have been shocked by politicians who are not parents of children at Hove Park, are not educational experts, and do not even live within the constituency let alone the community, coming here and telling parents what is best for their children before a consultation has even begun!
I refuse to do the same.
There are over 3,000 parents of children who go to Hove Park School and all of them have the right to be heard in a structured and rigorous way. I urge people from outside that community to respect their need for calm enquiry, consideration, and discussion with their school governing board and management team. It is this direct link - between school and parents - that is essential and I hope every parent will seize the opportunity to be heard.
I have been listening to the views of people who have contacted me, I’ve been door-knocking in the area to hear what local residents have to say, and I have been in touch with both the principal of Hove Park School and Brighton and Hove Council to seek reassurance that the consultation now underway is rigorous and open spirited. Once that process has concluded I will, like many of you, assess the results and decide whether to support the outcome. At that point I will state publicly my views and engage in public debate should it be welcomed. Until then I continue to wish parents and governors at Hove Park the very best in their deliberations and stand by if any of you wish to be in direct contact with me.
Once the decision has been taken I will work tirelessly to help people with all viewpoints to unite behind the students who work so hard to exploit all of the benefits a brilliant education has to offer.
All the best, Peter