We asked four teachers for their thoughts on the government's controversial measure to make all English state schools academies. They were less than impressed.
Yet again the government has decided to pursue a red herring in the name of improving education. It thinks that by “forcing” every school to become an academy all will be wonderful, while completely failing to notice that teacher morale is at an all time low and teacher recruitment is in crisis.
There is no real evidence to show that turning a school into an academy will automatically raise standards. Academies have only been in existence since 2002. I have been teaching in the maintained sector for 25 years and, sadly, all I have seen is smoke and mirrors. As long as we have an apartheid education system based on class and wealth, we will never make real progress. The recent Pisa tables show how worryingly far behind we are.
The underlying problem is not who governs our state schools, but the fact that we have two systems operating alongside one another. I was educated at private school, but I realise that until we understand how skewed our education system is we will not move forward. As long as middle class parents are either wealthy enough to send their children to independent schools or canny enough to ensure they are in the right catchment area for a “good” state school - which means a school full of other middle class - children there will still continue to be struggling schools, no matter what we call them. The majority of academies have been set up in poor deprived neighbourhoods and we now have an even greater apartheid system within the academies. How many government ministers are prepared to send their children to these academies?
The news that all schools will be forced to become academies really needs to be unpicked to show the level of callous market-driven and profit-making motives that lie behind it.
The think tank Policy Exchange first advised the conversion of all schools to academies. Policy Exchange was setup in 2002 by justice secretary Michael Gove, previously the education secretary, and describes itself as "an independent, non-partisan educational charity seeking free market and localist solutions to public policy." It looks to 'free market' solutions to education - that's not charities or non-profit solutions but free market solutions, essentially private companies.
There is no empirical evidence that academies do better than local authority school. In fact, looking at the top 10 Academy Trusts and Local Authority 'Valued Added' scores, eight out of the top 10 are Local Authorities and only 2 are academies.
Some of the chief executives of these 'non-profit' Academy Trusts that are already running hundreds of school are paid huge salaries. The OFSTED Chief Inspector has said, that "salary levels for the chief executives...do not appear to be commensurate with the level of performance.The average pay of the chief executives in these seven trusts is higher than the prime minister's salary, with one chief executive's salary reaching £225,000. This poor use of public money is compounded by some trusts holding very large cash reserves that are not being spent on raising standards. These seven trusts had total cash in the bank of £111m...and spent at least £8.5m on education consultancy in 2014-15 alone."
Why is this happening? Quite simply it is to set off the wholesale privatisation of the education system.
It is worth recognising that this new world has no fewer imperfections than the last, in return for increasing incidences of financial fiasco and disruption of normal service. Ofsted’s outgoing Chief Inspector has recently named several major player academy failures in his final salvo as head of an independent Inspectorate.
Twitter this evening shows the slow stirrings of resignation. Until this week, professionals could choose how best to deliver outstanding education. For those who felt that the academy model was right, they could make this work. For those who saw benefits in a larger learning community, that choice remained. Leaders who cannot lead as they wish followed by governors, who can no longer govern. The meagre supply of new teachers may well dry up further. Many will of course remain in service and loyally try to create the New Order.
Jon has worked in education for over 40 years as Head Teacher, LA officer and Education Partnership Director
But it is for the business community that real opportunity knocks. The enforcing legislation also open the school gate further to a growing private sector. Self-interest is becoming stronger than public interest.
So for now it is for the profession and for our children and families to weigh up carefully if this is really the way to shape the future of our country. Public service education is something we should be proud of, not something we are forced into against our will.
I work in a Sixth Form College and academisation seems inevitable. While it is not yet mandatory in our sector, sixth forms are extremely underfunded and ours would benefit from the extra VAT savings as an academy trust.
My main concern is that we would lose much of our autonomy and become a less desirable place to work. There are already acute teacher shortages in my area (I teach A-level English in London) and eradication of teachers’ pay scales will exacerbate the situation.
The school day can also be far longer in an academy school, meaning that teachers will have less time to plan high quality lessons and mark students’ work.
There are already far too many unqualified teachers in our schools working as ‘cover supervisors’ and children being taught by adults without the requisite qualifications. Academies will make this situation worse.
All young people deserve access to high quality education and the best possible start in life. Can academies really guarantee anything of the sort?
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