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Nick seeks action from MP on Academies consultation

September 16, 2009

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Dear Michael,

Please wear both MP and Minister’s hat for this…

We have some concerns about the consultation process for the proposed Academies for Hastings.

Two weeks ago, a concerned local Lib Dem member sent various questions to ESCC via the consultation website, and no reply has been received. Also, my own emailed request to meet with the sponsors this evening (sent on 31 August) was not responded to until 3.30pm today, preventing me from attending.

One of our other concerns at the moment is that the questionnaire survey being used as one of the main vehicles for consultation is likely to be an inherently unsuitable tool for this crucial decision.

The consultation documents are written in a style very far from ‘Plain English’ and are likely to be quite intimidating, off-putting and even incomprehensible for some – not just those with literacy difficulties.

Various parts of the consultation document have been checked for me using reliable, recognised on-line tools to check the ‘ reading age’ score of several sections.

For example a SMOG calculation on the first answer on the Q&A section of the website – ‘ What is an Academy’ – reveals a rating of 17.28 – i.e. written at post-graduate study level.

Most sections checked, using several different tools, gave ratings consistently above the recommended reading age for public documents.

These factors will not only inhibit participation in the first instance, but mean that those who do participate, even those with a basic standard of education and literacy, may not fully understand the material, thus affecting the validity of their responses. Those who do respond therefore, are highly likely to be a small percentage of those who should be being consulted.

I would be interested to know if the impact of the socio-economic profile of the town has been taken into account in the devising of the consultation. I would like to be confident that measures are in place to ensure that the process itself does not discriminate against those least likely to have their voice heard on this matter. But what I have seen so far does not leave me feeling that this is the case.

Furthermore, I would like to establish how those whose first language is not English, and who may in fact rely on oral communication even in their own language, are to be included in this process ? I have similar concerns regarding the participation of other groups who may need some level of support in order to be able to understand the issues and express their views – for example young people and adults who have learning disabilities, or who are visually and/or hearing impaired?

Some public meetings have now occurred, though I would question how well the PR has been done. I think the timing of this, at the start of the school year, and over quite a short period, leaves a good deal to be desired. As you will be aware, public meetings are difficult for many people to attend and are not always terribly accessible. Have interpreters for BSL or other support ( e.g. speech to text) and languages other than English been arranged to facilitate communication I wonder?

The same questions pertain to the material being presented to people on the proposal. It goes without saying that any evidence being used to support the proposal needs to be provided from independent and disinterested sources.

We are concerned, having seen the consultation document, as to whether such material will be provided in a format which most people will find accessible.

Whatever one’s view about Academies, it is clear that those most affected by this in the local context – the children whose future educational provision may be determined by the outcome of this

exercise, and their parents, carers and those who work in the education system – deserve at the very least full, equitable and easy access to the consultation process.

I am hopeful that you agree.

What therefore, if I might ask, will you be doing about it?!

Yours truly,

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