Following today’s Queen’s Speech, hundreds more secondary schools, as well as primary schools are set to be granted academy status.
By becoming academies, schools which have been deemed as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted will be taken out of LEA control and will receive funding direct from central government. The political discourse which the Conservatives use to justify this move refers to freedom. Schools becoming academies will be free of the constraining LEA. Being free from LEA control (which has obviously not be so constraining, given that they are deemed ‘outstanding’ ) academies will have greater freedom over the curriculum, admissions policies (which pupils they do and don’t want) and what they will pay teachers.
There are several claims made for these new academies, however these claims are not robust. Consider the following:
- Michael Gove, the new education secretary believes these new academies will raise standards, he bases this on the ‘evidence’ from the performance of existing academies (so, one can assume he gives the Labour Government credited for raising standards through academies).
- Evidence that existing academies have raised standards is not clear, in some cases standards, in terms of GCSE performance fell, while the use of GCSE equivalents may have accounted for the rise in other academies. See my previous post about Francis Beckett’s book.
- These new schools are already among the top performing schools, there is a limit to how far they can improve standards, yet high standards are likely to be maintained, not improved.
- New academies will promote choice
- For the academies, yes they do. Freeing schools from the constraints of the LEA means that schools can decide on their own admissions policies, the academies are free to choose which pupils they want, and crucially which pupils they don’t want. Meanwhile, LEAs still have the responsibility to provide schooling for children in the area, but have fewer schools to choose from.
- These new academies will promote social justice
- How? They are free to choose which pupils they want, and they need to maintain standards in order to maintain their freedom, even with a pupil premium (an incentive for schools to take pupils from deprived backgrounds) academies are unlikely to characterised by a comprehensive intake.
- They are allowed to choose their own pay rates, this will hardly lead to social justice among teachers.
- Social justice cannot be achieved where academies are treated more favourably, for example, by receiving more money from Government, while others struggle for funding.
It is tempting for the current ‘oustanding’ schools to apply for academy status, this includes nearly 2000 primary schools, as well as secondary schools. At a time when public services are being, which school wouldn’t want to take advantage of more money?
The main teaching unions, NUT, NASUWT, and ATL oppose these changes. The NUT and NASUWT have hinted at strike action should these changes go through, understandably they are concerned about their members’ pay and conditions, but more widely because of the implications these proposals have for education.
The picture in this post is taken from peter Wilby’s (2007) article in the Newstatesman, and can be found here http://www.newstatesman.com/education/2007/03/city-academies-schools-similar