On UK Schools Being Forced to Convert Into Academies

This is a guest post from a dear friend of mine Gary Ophis, a long time advocate of the educational well-being of this countries children and so I recently asked him for his thoughts on the governments recent announcement that they will be enforcing the change to academies on all schools across the UK. What follows is a concise breakdown on everything that is wrong with the current planned changes.

The government would argue that it gives schools greater autonomy to innovate and to make decisions based on what is best for the school and that it also makes individual schools more accountable.

The accountability argument is misplaced – it makes school more accountable to Ofsted and Central Govt rather than local politicians and therefore local electorates. It also puts schools in competition with each other which undermines the public service ethos and turns what teachers used to call ‘sharing best practice’ into ‘industrial espionage’. This is not in the interests of our nation’s children, though it might benefit a few at the expense of the rest.

Academies have autonomy to set their own admissions policy. This means they are no longer obliged to act in the best interests of the local community. Because they are operating in a high stakes accountability regime, they have a vested interest in refusing more difficult pupils (particularly those with more expensive needs or lower than average expected SATs results). There is currently a bulge in the primary school population (soon to be secondary school population). Local Authorities did have an obligation to find a school place for all children and could plan strategically across all schools in the borough to meet this obligation. Academies are not obliged to accept children at the LEA’s behest and LEAs are no longer permitted to build new schools therefore it is likely that children will be left without a place at a school.

Academies are responsible for their own budget. In the case of emergency spending (leaking roof, discovery of asbestos etc), LEAs could subsidise schools in need by holding back a fraction of all schools’ budgets for such purposes. Now, the only way a school can deal with this is to sack staff. Meanwhile, allowing academies autonomy over their budget can lead to Heads or those running a school to employ family or friends as staff, consultants, for building work, etc. Nepotism and corruption – unheard of 6 years ago – is becoming a feature of our education system.

LEAs used to provide expensive equipment to lend to schools and employ subject experts to support and provide extra training for schools and teachers. This has now gone. Consequently, schools are less well-resourced and teachers are unable to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. In addition, academies are not obliged to employ teachers to teach lessons. Consequently, the teaching profession is at risk of becoming deskilled and less effective.

And then, of course, there is the nightmare scenario of what happens when a school goes bust or is genuinely failing. An academy will have to close and the community will lose its local school.

Most of the warnings about, and criticisms of the academy programme raised in the early years of the Coalition government have been vindicated, while the justifications and benefits promised have failed to transpire. All in all, it’s a chaotic mess.

EducationDaniel Yates