TEACHERS and parents have launched a campaign this week against plans to replace Midhurst Grammar School with a new academy school.
The campaign entitled NAME – No Academy in Midhurst or Easebourne – claims academies are bad for communities, bad for school staff and bad for parents and children.
NAME supporters want West Sussex County Council to hold out for public funding to build 'the school we want where we want it'.
Campaign leader, former teacher and vicar of Heyshott Chris Boxley, said: "Following West Sussex County Council's disclosure of its plan to close three schools and open an academy in Midhurst or Easebourne, some concerned members of the community have formed a campaign group.
"NAME is gaining momentum daily and welcomes new members. It will engage in public meetings and produce literature, and it has established a website where the public can contribute their thoughts in a way that doesn't have to fit into the standard 'consultation' boxes."
This week Mr Boxley told the Observer he felt bound to take action out of loyalty to his former school, its pupils and staff and 'out of a commitment to Midhurst to try to preserve some of its unique character which will be lost in a commercial development if the school is removed from the heart of the town'.
"West Sussex County Council claims the idea of an Academy for Midhust 'emerged' during December," said Mr Boxley.
"Strange, then, that the minutes of the council's cabinet show they discussed the matter in May!"
Taking issue with WSCC cabinet member Mark Dunn's claim the academy route was the 'only show in town', Mr Boxley said: "An academy is the only option to replace Midhurst Grammar, Herbert Shiner and the Intermediate if we demand closure of these schools now and their replacement in the next three years. This is not what the community wants."
If, on the other hand, the county council held out for public
funding, said Mr Boxley: "We can get the school we want, where
we want it, using the detailed plans seen by governors at Midhurst Grammar School, creating a better school around Whip Hill, Lambert's Lane and including the existing new sports centre.
"We say, why throw away a 336-year historical legacy for a slightly longer wait?"
Mr Boxley claimed academies were bad for communities because the sponsor had the majority of governors.
"The rules for academy governance are clear – even when the local authority is a co-sponsor, the private sponsor must have
an absolute majority of governors to maintain control of the school: this is undemocratic and unrepresentative."
He said academies were bad for staff because only existing staff were protected.
"New staff may be employed at a lower rate, eventually forcing downward pressure on wages and conditions for all workers in the academy."
And he claimed they were bad for parents and children because there was growing evidence they carried out 'back-door selection'.
"In the end," he claimed, "the school chooses its parents and children, not the other way around."
And the real choice for parents was not 'academy or nothing', he said.
"It is either buy into a privatised academy now or buy time for the community to debate its priorities and get the publicly-funded, publicly-run, publicly-accountable school its deserves."
The campaign website is http://namecampaign.blogspot.com/