George Osborne announced in the budget yesterday plans to turn all schools in England into academies.
As someone who has been a school governor for many years as well as a regular visitor to a wide variety of schools I don’t see the logic behind this policy decision. Here’s some of my concerns over these announcements:
There is no mandate for this: this policy wasn’t in the Conservative Party manifesto. It’s a major change, and yet nobody has voted for it.
There is no evidence for this: all the data I’ve read seems to indicate that the performance of academies compared to LEA controlled schools is no better.
There is no freedom in choice: as Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School, a 14-18 comprehensive school in Suffolk wrote on the TES
“academisation is no longer a treat, an incentive, a perk or a bribe. It’s apparently the new bog standard, the final breaking up of England’s collective school system and a wilful boot into the notion of democratically elected councils taking responsibilities for the institutions where most parents choose to educate their children.”
A rejection of parents and communities on Governing Bodies: Governors are volunteers acting as critical friends to the school leadership. I’ve been committed to this role in two different schools over a number of years. In both schools I’ve used advice and support from the Local Education Authority to deal with a number of complex issues around personnel, finance, Federisation, Ofsted, and more. Under the Academisation agenda this all changes, some Multi-Academy Trusts have great support networks, but others do not – the support is much more varied than it currently is. In addition the government are scrapping the role of parent governors in favour of professionals with the “right skills” – these groups are becoming business boards which leads to focuses on finances and data rather than caring about making choices that benefits the pupils education.
There is no solution to school places, recruitment and finances: many schools struggle to recruit good teachers let alone head teachers. Currently this is supported by effective Councils trying to share the resources across their area. Equally Councils currently have responsibility for managing the provision of school places – again who will ensure an unbiased provision of places. Cash flow in schools is currently very finely managed over a three year cycle, with very limited opportunities for development or building projects. Most schools are heavily reliant on their Council for the maintenance schedules for the bigger pieces of work.
The government doesn’t understand teachers: teachers are leaving the profession in their droves because they aren’t given the freedom to teach. Instead they are bound by paper work, targets, and an ever-changing curriculum. To top this all off, the government has also announced a radical shakeup of teacher qualifications, scrapping qualified teachers status (QTS) and introducing a more open-ended system of accreditation. Ministers want a more challenging accreditation brought in, which will be based on a teacher’s performance in the classroom and judged by their headteacher and another senior school leader.
And what about the wider issues: Councils currently have responsibility for not just education, but related issues such as school transport and special educational needs. It isn’t clear how these areas will be managed by a series of rivalling academies with their own individual agendas.
Who actually wants to be an Academy Trust? Multi-Academy Trusts can be big businesses but they don’t currently have a track record of being profit making so where is the government expecting all these sponsors to come from?