Britain Today,  education

Enforced Rise of Academies

Writing for Left Foot Forward, Kim Allen (Academies Commission) and Henry Stewart (of Local Schools Network) argue for and against continued promotion of the academy programme respectively.

(This refers only to England, specifically not Wales. Individual Scottish schools may be referred nominally to as academies, but this dates from years past and includes primaries as well as secondaries. For American readers, such schools are similar to charter schools.)

Allen’s optimism seems to be based on a rapid increase in schools applying for and being granted academy status. Certainly, since May 2010 when Michael Gove invited all local authority secondary schools to seek academy status, the number has increased some some 150 to over 1,500. And, the stated purpose of academies appears sound: namely, to pass into the control of dedicated staff and interested parents or school governors the running of schools where previously the local authority may have been distracted by other concerns.

There is, however, no discussion of the relative sizes of the schools with academy status or geographical spread. I can see that schools previously cushioned by being in affluent catchment areas or unencumbered by social deprivation and specialist concerns would have a head start, thus presenting a false image of optimism.

Stewart touches upon this when he observes that Allen’s source material explicitly excludes from its analysis current academies which previously were independent and city technology colleges. He also suggests that any increase in exam performance referred to by the Academies Commission is not significantly different to parallel increases in schools under local authority control.

Complaints against sharp practice by academies were being made when they numbered in the very low three figures. Now, as Gove argues for an extension of the academy programme to primaries – and, where staff and parents are not amenable, he shows some awareness of the argot of HP – and presuming new schools will have academy status, such a rapid expansion undoubtedly will show-up further flaws.

Whilst Stewart and the Local School Network appear, in many ways, wedded to a nostalgic notion of personable village schools – and not the rise of super-primaries with in excess of 1,000 pupils – it is difficult to escape the suspicion, as an earlier piece by Left Foot Forward said, that the source document relied upon by Allen lacks academical rigour.