Features

Published on July 2nd, 2013 | by Teresa Vigay

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Academies – the future of education?

Academies – What does it mean for Education?
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the role and importance of Academies, but the implications for our education system are huge.  Just as in other supposedly public services, such as the NHS, education is increasingly coming under the influence of private companies.

Different Types of Academies.
It is quite hard to get a grasp on what is actually going on in education, not helped by the fact that there are several types of academy. There are converter academies – these are schools that are performing well and are offered direct sponsorship from the Department of Education and so opt out of Local Authority control. Several secondary schools in Birmingham come into this category, including Holyhead School in Handsworth. Then there are Free Schools, which can be set up by particular communities or interest groups, for example the Nishkam Primary school in Handsworth. These are also directly funded by the government rather than the Local Authority. Lastly there are academies sponsored by private companies, these are generally schools that have not been performing well and are often forced into becoming an academy. Many secondary and primary schools in Birmingham now fall into this category.

How Academies affect the LEA.
What they all have in common is they no longer come under the control of the Local Education Authority (LEA). This means that they  DSCF0100have no automatic access to education services, such as Behaviour Support, Special Educational needs, Pupil Support Service, speech therapists etc, unless they pay for them. Also as each school leaves the LEA, its budget is diminished, so it is less able to provide these services, which affects those schools that are not academies, particularly schools in more socially deprived areas. It seems like the LEA is being systematically run down.  Furthermore there is a government policy that all new schools have to be either Academies or Free Schools, so the Local Authority cannot build any more schools.

How Staff are Affected.
It is not good news for staff either. Academies do not fall under national and local union agreements for pay and conditions, so this could lead to all sorts of inequalities and competition between schools, where undoubtedly the lower achieving schools in more socially deprived areas would lose out.

What about Democracy?
Another worrying aspect of moving schools from the LEA to Academy status is the whole education system becomes less democratic.  LEA schools have elected governors, including some parents and staff; Academy governing bodies are different. They are run by a board of trustees who appoint the other governors, there does not have to be any staff representation and there only have to be two parent governors, who can be either appointed or elected.

How Academies affect Admissions.
Admissions is another area that would be affected, as they would not be co-ordinated by the LEA. Academies can apply their own admissions procedures. This could lead to more social inequality if for example a school is trying to improve its GCSE results – would they admit the same number of children from poorer backgrounds or with Special Educational Needs?

The Broader Picture.
Looking at the broader picture, if the LEA significantly diminishes and most schools become Academies functioning independently of each other, how can there be any city-wide planning for education or any co-ordination within the region? The LEA has its faults, but at least the Council is made up of locally elected representatives.

Consultation over changing to Academy status.
There is no legal requirement for parents or staff to be consulted over whether their school becomes an academy. Most schools do perform some sort of consultation, though usually when it has already been decided to convert to Academy status and it has proved very difficult to challenge the decision. Staff at Hamstead Hall school in Handsworth Wood are currently in a dispute over converting, and have held strike action.

Private Company Involvement.
So who are the private companies that are sponsoring our schools? There are several companies aiming to sponsor a large numbers of schools (known as Academy chains). In Birmingham there are ten Academy chains: Ormiston, E-ACT, ARK, AET, Elliot, Education DSCF0109Central, Oasis, HTI (Head Teachers and Industry), Prospects and Griffin. Together they run 9 secondary schools and 25 primary schools. The largest is Oasis with 7 primary schools, including Matthew Boulton Primary School in Handsworth. These companies employ other private companies to provide support services. One such company is Babcock4S, the UK’s largest education and support services provider, which is part of the Babcock International Group, the third largest defence contractor in the UK, currently designing nuclear submarines. Do we really want arms manufacturers involved in running our schools?

Do private companies really have an interest in education, or are they more interested in making profits? Do they really want our young people to develop as fully rounded individuals?  Do they really have a love of education n for education’s sake? Or will it mean a narrowing of the curriculum, tailored to more business and vocational subjects?

Performance of Academies.
The argument put forward by this government (and the last) is that Academies perform better than local Authority schools.  However there has been no noticeable difference. Even the Department of Education acknowledged this in a report published in 2012, which stated that :
“Results in 2011 for pupils in Sponsored Academies were broadly the same as in a group of similar (statistically matched) schools. “ *

Alternatives to Academies.
One way of improving schools and raising educational standards that has been found to be very effective is groups of schools collaborating in networks to support each other.  There was a project run over a number of years in London, Manchester and the Black Country, called the City Challenge. More successful schools supported lower achieving schools to make improvements and raise standards with very good results.
Co-operative Partnership is a new proposal put forward by the Local Authority to enable more collaboration between schools (including Academies) and provide more coordination and direction for education in the city. This proposal is supported by many head teachers, governors, teachers and parents.

Education is of such importance to society it seems quite shocking that such huge changes are taking place so quickly and with so little consultation. Is this really how a democratic society should be operating?

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*Attainment at Key Stage 4 by pupils in Academies 2011, Research report DFE-RR223.

If you wish to find out more about these issues and what people are doing to oppose Academies, contact:
rickbanut@btconnect.com


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