The REED employment services company was set up in the 60s and is now one of the UK’s biggest private companies with worldwide reach. Its founder, Sir Alec Reed, is also a well-known philanthropist with interests in many fields, including education and in the early days of New Labour’s academisation programme, he agreed to sponsor the West London Academy which, in 2012, was renamed the Alec Reed Academy in his honour.
When I attended the Anti Academies Alliance AGM back in March, one of the most telling interventions was from three teachers at Alec Reed, who asked to remain anonymous. I have to say, their demeanour suggested ‘ordinary blokes’ (they were all men) rather than ‘political activists’ who, it seemed, had found themselves forced into activism by their circumstances. Oddly for teachers, used to speaking in front of rooms full of people, they were nervous even though it was not a massive meeting and they could expect a supportive atmosphere.
Alec Reed Academy had at that stage had a three-day strike called under the existing ‘workload ballot’ though the real problem, as described by the teachers, is “vicious bullying by management”. One of them said that in the early days the academisation had been a good thing and it was only in recent times that new ideas had been brought in as a result of constant striving to improve. These ideas were always imposed without consultation and impacted badly on the workload of teachers. Currently they are struggling to implement a diktat that every student must have a ‘six criteria’ report every week. According to one teacher “lots of talent has left” including even out of teaching. It is reckoned that 75% of the primary staff have left (Alec Reed is primary through secondary), often without the prospect of another job to go to. Pressure on staff is exerted through frequent observations. Those who are judged to be not good enough are put on a ‘support programme’ which results in two observations per week and, to come off this programme, teachers must get 8 ‘goods’ in a row! It is alleged that staff seem to just ‘disappear’.
It is argued that the basic problem with academies is their governance. Stories of management bullying have been around for decades but in LA schools there are ‘checks and balances’ which, if not capable of preventing all management bullying, helps to minimise and mitigate against a lot of it. In academies like Alec Reed there are no such ‘backstops’ and the control is in the hands of one person or a very small clique. At Alec Reed, for example, the sponsor appoints the governors, including, it is said, the parent representative; a member of the Reed family is on the board as is the company’s HR manager; the teachers reps are members of the Senior Leadership Team, who take it in turns!
Alec Reed should serve as a warning to all who are glibly taking their LA schools down the academy route in the naive assumption that they can grab a bit of extra cash and then carry on as before. Ten years down the line, after a promising start, the problem of ‘lack of accountability’ of those in charge has led to appalling problems for staff with knock on effects to the quality of teaching and learning.