Listen and learn

Listen and learn

Government’s proposals to turn all schools into academies is proving particularly divisive, but shouldn’t we be concrentrating on delivering more school places instead of arguing over status?

When controversial plans were announced in George Osborne’s Budget in March to turn all primary and secondary schools in England into academies, it sparked a huge debate. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) questioned government’s motives, asserting the decision came from a desire to run schools like businesses, rather than boosting education standards.

At the ATL’s annual conference, general secretary Mary Bousted told delegates: “Either the secretary of state for education has not read the letter sent to her by her chief inspector of schools, where he tells her that the worst multi-academy trusts are now performing as badly as the worst local authorities… or her civil servants have kept the letter from her because it is too upsetting.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) countered, highlighting comments made by Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, who said that: “There are some excellent [multiacademy trusts] that have made remarkable progress in some of the toughest areas of the country.” The most noticeable examples here are ARK Schools and Harris Federation.

When the concept of academies was first introduced, the aim was to target the most underperforming schools in the most deprived areas, a form of ‘special measures’ if you like, to put an end to the cycle of decline and reverse the prospects of failing schools. Secondary schools were the primary target, with Michael Gove saying at the time, he wanted to ‘liberate comprehensives from the dead hand of town hall control.’ The results produced so far have been mixed.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is defending government’s proposals saying that academies deliver better results. However, telling analysis published by the DfE last year, which compared the performance of local authority and academy chains, highlighted a significant underperformance issue amongst chains. Gove may have liberated some schools, but has what he turned them into made them any better? And what about the schools that are currently succeeding, could changing over to academy status impact negatively on their future performance?

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell spoke out on Opposition Day: “What choice is there in a one size fits all policy? What is autonomous about forcing a highly performing school into an academy chain?”

Government has produced a data sheet on its website — 10 facts you need to know about academies — in a bid to dispel what it cites as some of the ‘common myths’ circulating about schools changing to academies.

With the debate showing no signs of abating, one thing remains crucial, we must get education facilities right. New schools and regenerated stock must be of a high standard and provide conducive, inspiring environments for teaching and learning. Providers must take into account pupil and staff needs, regional demographics and understand that which works for one school may not necessarily work for another, flexibility is key…

We currently face significant issues due to a chronic lack of school places across the country and with that in mind, perhaps government should be focusing its attention on tackling the undersupply issue before addressing the question of status?

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