Chalk Talk: Roll up, roll up - if your school is not an academy yet, it soon will be
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Thursday 24 May 2012
I must confess my visit to the Academies Show in London's Olympia left me feeling a little mischievous last week. Not sure whether it was the sharp-suited stewards ushering everybody hither and thither with a kind of discipline even new chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw could only dream of. Or maybe it was the language used by some of the speakers – "structured customer feedback" particularly stuck in the throat. (There had been no mention of children up until then.)
There's no doubt the day was a success – 4,500 schools had asked to participate and many heads could not even get into the main conference area. However, at least one said to me: "I'm only here because this is going to happen – not because I want it to."
There was an opportunity for a wry smile when the assembled heads were told academy status would give them "freedom to spend their budgets in a different way". I don't know why, but my mind went racing back to the head of the academy chain in Lincoln who ordered sex games on his academy credit card to be delivered to his office.
Thanks heavens, though, for a speech from Dr Elizabeth Sidwell of the Schools Commission, which sought to show how a good academy could improve things for the children in it.
So I'm not against academies. I just don't think they should be the only show in town and am a bit perturbed about the kind of sales-speak language that is being adopted to describe what they do. They're becoming more and more corporatist, it seems to me.
One headteacher trying to get into the conference was asked if he was with Zurich Municipal, the main sponsors. "No," he said. "You should have said yes," replied the steward. "I'd have got you in."
Back to those freedoms that they have, though. One speaker suggested they could include hiring out the school for a wedding. Maybe, but I think all those wedded to the academy movement – Messrs Blair, Miliband (D), Adonis and Gove are already married.
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