Government doesn't believe in academies, say heads

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The Independent Online

Government support for the flagship academies programme is waning, heads told MPs today.

Leaders of the privately-sponsored schools said there was “ambiguity” within Whitehall over continued support for the programme.

Nick Weller, head of Dixon’s Academy in Bradford and a member of the Independent Academies Association, told the Commons select committee monitoring education: “I do think the movement is in danger of stagnating.

“There is a Secretary of State who doesn’t want to be there and a minister who said a few years ago that he didn’t believe in them and is a member of the Socialist Education Association which is opposed to them.

“He says he does now and it’s good that he’s converted but I do think there is an ambiguity towards them.”

However, he added: “The academies movement is being led by people who don’t necessarily believe in it. Whose fault is that? I think it is right at the top.”

Mr Weller’s comments come after the widely reported planned move of Schools Secretary Ed Balls to the Treasury in last month’s reshuffle failed to materialise and former deputy headteacher Vernon Coaker replaced Jim Knight as Schools Minister Mr Knight had inherited responsibility for the academies programme from its architect Lord Adonis.

Dr Daniel Moynihan,. of the Harris Federation of Academies in south London,, warned of a “continuing encroachment” on the freedom of academies.

The Government is planning to open 400 academies - 200 of which are already in the pipeline.

However, ministers plan to make them accountable to a new government body - which also has responsibility for monitoring some local government provision.

Since Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister, they have also had to work more closely with local authorities and have had to to secure their support before any academy scheme can be approved.

Teachers’ leaders have also remarked that - for the first time in a major government announcement in recent years - there was no mention of any further initiatives on academies in Mr Balls’ White Paper on education published on Tuesday.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: “Academies are not the panacea for the challenge of raising standards and I therefore welcome that there is nothing new in the White Paper on academies.”

Mr Weller said that there would also be changes to the academies programme if the Conservatives won the next general election.

“If there was a change of government I think the Tories have said they want to give schools more independence and they want every successful school in the country to become an academy. It doesn’t really fit in with the original concept of the programme.”

The scheme was originally conceived as a means of transforming failing schools in the inner cities - by bringing in private sponsors prepared to fork out £2million to run a school.

The emphasis has since shifted with universities and more faith groups being encouraged to come forward to sponsor them.

Dr Moynihan said he doubted whether the universities would have the expertise to deal with disadvantaged youngsters.

Mr Balls counter-acted any suggestion he was unhappy to stay in his present brief when he launched his White Paper on Tuesday - saying he was “happy” to be able to stay in post and oversee the launch of the reforms.

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