Education Quandary

Should we join other parents who are protesting about plans for a new Academy near where we live?
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Academies, for those of you at the back of the class who haven't been paying attention to the byzantine twists of New Labour's education policies, are the most recent structural assault on low educational standards. They are glitzy new schools, backed by private sponsors, designed to kick-start schooling in poor neighbourhoods.

So, why would anyone protest about that? Well, for several reasons. In Doncaster, parents were so anxious that a school funded by a born-again Christian tycoon would teach their children that evolution was bunkum and the world was created in six days that they saw the proposal off. In east London, parents rejected plans to close down a popular primary school in order to turn it into an Academy, while in north London, parents are protesting that an inappropriately large school is being shoehorned into a very small site.

Teachers' unions don't like Academies because teachers who work in them are not bound by normal pay and conditions, and neighbouring schools often see them as cuckoos in their nests. Recently, schools in poor areas - in fact, schools in all areas - have been trying to work more closely together. It is both government policy and good educational sense. But Academies, with their new buildings and private partnerships, live in a world apart, and so far, only a few have reached out to their neighbours. And some seem more intent on creaming off the best pupils and off-loading the troublesome ones.

Also, they are an unproven experiment, although results so far make it clear that big bucks are no instant fix for entrenched under-achievement.

But whether you join a protest is up to you. Only you can decide whether the benefits of a well-funded Academy would outweigh the potential disadvantages in your neighbourhood.

Readers' advice

Why would you want to protest about these schools? My grandson goes to an Academy in London and can't wait to get there each morning. He is in a smart, modern building with all the best facilities for learning. His teachers are keen and seem able to motivate all of their pupils, and there is almost no bullying or poor behaviour. His parents are thrilled at how well he is doing there, and so is he.
Mary Pannett, Surrey

You should look into exactly why these parents are protesting. Some years back, I was put under pressure to join a local campaign on school admissions. I agreed, but when I got more involved, I saw that it was organised by a few people with personal axes to grind.
Gillian Holmes, Devon

People in Middlesborough are probably wishing that they had protested before they had Unity City Academy foisted upon them three years ago. This school cost £18m but has just failed its Ofsted. Other Academies are at the bottom of league tables. Yet the Government is pouring billions into them. The Commons select committee on education said that the Government shouldn't waste any more money on them until it sees whether they work or not, and surely most sane people would agree?
Lee Terry, London E8

Next week's quandary

Two weeks ago, at half term, my daughter's school packed off all its A2 pupils on study leave. She seems to think that this means days of sleeping in, meeting friends and shopping. I don't have a clue how to make her settle down to revising. Isn't the school abdicating its responsibility by turning its pupils free like this?

Send letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by 13 June, at 'The Independent', Education, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Include details of your address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

h.wilce@btinternet.com

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