Andrew Adonis on Academies: 'It's about giving children an equal start in life'

Adonis is known as the architect of Labour's academies programme. Ten years after the first one opened, how does he think they're doing?

Andrew Adonis offers to make a cup of tea or coffee in his swanky offices just off Piccadilly Circus. It is, perhaps, a sign of the changed times since he had ministerial flunkies to perform that task for him. Not a bit of it, he argues. "I used to do it at the department for education because I got in so early there was nobody else around."

"Mr Academies" – which Lord Adonis admits would be an apt epithet for him – had a reputation for hard work, harrying potential sponsors, particularly from amongst independent schools, to do deals and support what was then Labour's flagship programme.

He is working for the Institute for Government (IfG) at present but has kept a finger in the pie of the academies programme, accepting a post as president of the Independent Academies Association, the umbrella body that represents academies.

He is also about to publish a book about his time with the Labour government and his programme for the future, Reinventing England's Schools, which he expects to finish later this month. "The first half is about education reform and the second half is a blueprint for education reform over the next 10 years," he says. He will be giving up his job as chief executive of the IfG – where he has been campaigning for more key cities around the UK to adopt the London model of having their own Mayor – at the end of the year.

As he talks about his campaign at the IfG, he asks: "Can you tell me the names of the leaders of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds city councils?" I fall at the first hurdle. "Exactly," he replies triumphantly. "If they had Mayors, it would put them on the map."

This campaign is in line with the mantra that keeps spurring him on. "When I see a failing public service I instinctively have to reform it," he says.

He is very much back in the academies fold now. though, and intends to spend his time after the new year plotting the programme that Labour will need to adopt to improve education if it is returned to power at the next election. "I'm passionate about all that the academies are seeking to do in giving pupils an equal start in life," he says. "Hardly a day passes without me speaking to an academy sponsor."

It is no surprise, therefore, to find that he was a participant at the meeting that David Cameron held at Downing Street this month with heads of the country's leading independent schools – at which he sought to persuade Eton, amongst others, to sponsor an academy. "I especially would like to see more independent schools set up and manage academies," he says. "We've already got Wellington College, Dulwich College, the Girls' Day School Trust, which are now engaging in the providing of academies."

The benefit, he argues, is that it leads to heads of independent schools spending as much time talking about reform of the state system as they do running their own schools. He talks of how staff at Wellington College now hold joint sessions with the teachers at the academy it has set up, discussing how they can jointly improve their teaching practice. "My key priority is to close the gap between the best and worst performing schools," he says. "That's the single most important challenge facing the national education system. We have at the top of our system the best schools in the world but far too long a tail of under-performing schools. That's why I was so relentless about maths and literacy – phonics and effective teaching of reading in primary schools. I'm passionate about improving pay and conditions for undervalued teachers, passionate about Teach First – which gets more highly achieving graduates into the most challenging schools. It is why I pioneered the academies programme to act as a battering ram for high standards."

It seems his plea for the private sector to join the academies fold is taking off within the Coalition Government. In his speech at the Conservative Party conference, David Cameron talked of the need to end the "apartheid" between state and private schools. Sponsoring academies, both Lord Adonis and Mr Cameron would agree, would be one way of doing that.

Lord Adonis is adamant that – if the academies programme can succeed in persuading more independent schools to back it and devote their energies to improving the state sector, it will help increase social mobility in the country as a whole, giving better life chances to disadvantaged pupils. "It can bridge the private/state divide, which I regard as a cancer not only in the education system but in society at large," he says.

It is a belief that has its roots in his own schooling. He himself came from a broken home and was the beneficiary of a grant to attend a private boarding school, Kingham Hill, which he used as a platform to gain a place at Oxford.

Many of the themes that he displays such passion over are in tune with the kind of rhetoric that can also be heard coming from the lips of Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. Indeed, in the run-up to the last election, both Mr Cameron and Mr Gove made it plain there would be a job for him in a Conservative administration if he wanted it. He rejected the overture. "I'm a Labour man," he says emphatically.

So how does he rate the Coalition Government's performance – especially on academies now the emphasis has switched towards schools ranked as "outstanding" by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, transferring to academy status? "In so far as the Coalition is taking forward the academies' policy, I've been supportive of them," he says. "I would have given a much lower priority to changing the legal status of successful schools, though. That is not the critical issue facing the education system. I'm not opposed to any attempt to give schools more freedom, but it is not a priority."

One aspect of new government policy that he is highly critical of, though, is Mr Gove's introduction of the English Baccalaureate. Pupils will be awarded it if they obtain five A* to C grades at GCSE in English, maths, science, a foreign language and a humanities – history or geography. "Why should the state be saying that it is more important to be studying the Tudors and the Stuarts than engineering?" he asks. "All 16-year-olds should have a good level of literacy and maths. Beyond English and maths, though, I think it should be for school students and parents to decide the best combination of subjects."

Timeline: the academies programme

2001

The first academies launched, with sponsors required to cough up £2m towards opening new schools or turning around failing inner-city schools.

2010

Labour leaves office with 200 academies up and running. The rules for setting them up have changed, though. Sponsors are no longer required to part with £2m upfront. Instead, universities and private schools are coming forward to sponsor them. They are offering cash in kind, ie use of facilities, sharing teachers with the academy.

2011

More than 1,000 new academies have been created since the election after Michael Gove announced that all schools – including primary and special as well as secondary – could opt for academy status.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor