Academies plan a 'failure', say teachers

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The Independent Online

Michael Gove's plans to let schools become academies was branded a "failure" by teachers' leaders today after figures showed just 32 have taken him up on the offer.

The Education Secretary has announced the numbers of primary, secondary and special schools that have responded to his invitation to apply for academy freedoms.

The figures show that of the more than 2,000 that have expressed an interest, just 142 will convert during this academic year.

Of these, only 32 schools have completed the process quickly enough to re-open as academies in time for the start of the new school year.

The announcement comes as children across the country prepare to return to school after the summer holidays.

Mr Gove's offer was the first time primary schools were told that they could become academies.

Seven will make the change this academic year, today's figures show.

Special schools will be allowed to convert from next year.

It is understood that the majority of those opening are "outstanding" schools, or involved in federations with "outstanding schools".

Teaching unions dismissed the announcement, saying the figures do not represent a success.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: "For a policy that was supposed to be a flagship change for education, it is something of a failure to have so few schools opening at this stage."

She added: "The academies programme has simply not caught the imagination of school leaders, teachers and parents. This large scale rejection of academies indicates that schools do not see the benefits of such an unnecessary upheaval and wish to remain within the local, democratic family of schools.

"While there is no conclusive evidence that academies improve education, what we do know is that their lack of accountability and their draining of local authority education funding will have a dramatic impact on children and young people receiving the same standard of education regardless of the school's status."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said there were concerns that schools had not properly consulted with staff, parents and their local community over decisions to convert.

She said: "However, despite the unacceptable tactics to seek to tempt schools into becoming academies and repeated claims by the Secretary of State for Education of widespread interest in academy status, only a handful of schools it seems will convert on 1 September."

The reason for "low take-up" is because the Government has "misjudged the situation", Ms Keates said.

The coalition Government moved swiftly to pass a new Academies Bill to allow schools to opt out of local authority control and take up Mr Gove's offer, and the speed at which the legislation moved through Parliament led to accusations that ministers rushed the reforms using a timetable usually reserved for emergency laws, such as anti-terror powers.

Ms Blower said: "It was a great mistake to rush through legislation enabling schools to change for the new term and the Government is paying the price for their indecent haste."

Announcing that every school could apply for the status in May, Mr Gove said academies could become "the norm" in England's education system, adding he anticipated a high take-up of his offer.

Schools rated "outstanding" by Ofsted were pre-approved, meaning those under this category who applied immediately are the most likely to open as academies first.

Mr Gove said today: "This Government believes that teachers and head teachers, not politicians and bureaucrats, should control schools and have more power over how they are run.

"That's why we are spreading academy freedoms. This will give heads more power to tackle disruptive children, to protect and reward teachers better, and to give children the specialist teaching they need."

He told BBC News: "More than half of outstanding schools have expressed an interest.

"The numbers so far are very encouraging, there are signs of real hope for the future."

Patricia Sowter, head of Cuckoo Hall Primary School in Edmonton, north London, one of those to convert, said: "With the new academy freedoms we will continue to develop our autonomy and take the school forward in what is an area of London that faces significant challenges and disadvantage.

"We will now have the flexibility to adapt and extend the curriculum, target resources more effectively, deploy specialist staff and above all build sustainable capacity to ensure continued and long-term outstanding educational provision, to best meet the needs of our children and wider school community."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "We encourage all academies to remain part of the family of schools: collaborating with other schools, consulting staff and parents and providing inclusive education.

"The profession should not, and I believe will not, let this usher in a fragmented or privatised education system.

"If a school achieves success in isolation, while others are struggling, it is a shallow victory."