Greens pick troubled Isle of Wight academy for education policy launch

The Green Party today launched its education manifesto outside a school facing closure on the Isle of Wight in a bid to highlight issue with the academies and free school programme.

Sandown Bay Academy, operated by the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), faces being merged with another school on the island after its pupil numbers halved in five years.

The Greens have pledged to end the academies programme, which it claims has taken schools “out of the hands” of councils and parents.

Vix Lowthion, a secondary school teacher on the Isle of Wight and the Green Party’s education spokesperson, is standing again to become the island’s MP. Lowthian came third in the 2015 election.

The academies programme has taken schools out of the hands of local authorities and parents

She says the decision to launch the party’s education policies in front of Sandown Bay Academy was deliberate and “links” with the party’s view on academies.

Lowthion is critical of the proposal which she says effectively closes the school through a merger with the Ryde Academy, more than six miles away.

The Academies Enterprise Trust, which runs both schools, is in talks with the Isle of Wight council over the potential merger which follow years of financial decline at Sandown Bay.

According to the Isle of Wight County Press, one teacher and three members of staff at the school have been made redundant in the past week.

AET claims financial woes caused by a fall in pupil numbers from around 2,000 pupils in 2012 to around 1,100 in 2016 are “not sustainable”.

However, Lowthion says the large drop is the result of a controversial new school, The Island Free School, which opened in 2014 despite an overall surplus of school places on the island.

“The pupil numbers have not dropped for educational reasons. It’s largely because we’ve got a surplus of places,” she told Schools Week.

“They opened a new free school down the road in the next down, even though there’s a surplus on the island.”

Vix Lowthion

Academies also lack accountability, Lowthian claims, adding that although parents are being consulted on the merger, the final decision on whether it will go ahead will not be made locally.

“I can see the place for small groups of schools getting together, but these large multi-academy are so far removed from the island.”

The Greens want to convert all academies back into local authority maintained schools, but Lowthion accepts this would have to be a phased change because of a reduction in the number of education officials working for councils.

“We couldn’t do it overnight,” she says.

The Greens have also pledged to pump £7 billion of additional funding into education and give parents and teachers more control over the education of pupils. The party also wants to scrap SATs.

AET told the Island Echo that its decision for Sandown Bay Academy would be “guided by the principles of doing the best both for current and future children, and providing them with a better education in stronger schools”.

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