Last week George Osborne announced that all schools are to become academies by 2020 as part of a Budget designed to ‘put the next generation first’. Many doubt that the next generation have been the impetus for the Chancellor’s plans. He has been accused of land grabbing, of undoing 50 years of comprehensive public education at a stroke and stripping parents, teachers and faith groups of any local choice. Osborne has a talent for railroading opposition but he may yet come unstuck.
Some academies are naff. Just last week Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said he has “great concern” about the performance of seven large multi-academy trusts (MAT) that were inspected by Ofsted. He said the findings of the focused inspections were “worrying” and highlighted “serious weaknesses”. Trusts named in the letter included E-ACT, School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) and Academies Enterprise Trust – the country’s largest MAT with 67 schools.
MumsNet is up in arms too. They are furious that £1billion of title deeds for schools transferred to private companies and that the real winners are not pupils or teachers but the likes of carpet millionaire Philip Harris and Tory Party Treasurer Lord Fink. ‘Academies are not about education – they are about asset stripping and English parents and children, will find themselves, just like the pensioners and their families who were left without facilities due to the very rich directors of Southern Cross selling off the assets and disappearing in to the sunset.’- beingamumisfun
Teachers are anxious. A study of over 100 schools in England by HCSS Education, a leading education finance specialist, found that 59% of teachers and school leaders do not want their school to convert to academy status. When asked what their main concern was about the conversion process, 65% stated that staff may be nervous or wary of the change. Other concerns included losing the support of the local authority (47%), and the school being unsettled during the transition phase (41%). 29% of schools were concerned about the leadership team’s capabilities and 24% had worries about producing a viable business plan.
I decided to do my own straw poll at the Education Show. The reaction was mixed. While some pundits advertise the benefits of greater autonomy, the majority of teachers and senior managers were concerned.
Will head teachers get more autonomy?
‘The head teacher’s job in an academy is about to secure as the manager of the Premier League football club. It’s just we don’t get the massive salaries or the big golden handshake.’ Primary headteacher Cambridge
‘We met with all the schools in a multi academy trust and the head teachers placed a massive order for one of our products. It was one of the biggest orders we have ever received. Two days later we had a call that they had to cancel the order because their business manager had a chosen a different product. It seems that sometimes in academies head teachers have less power than they did before.’ Education publisher
‘Who will pay the huge salaries for the top jobs in MATs? Where will the money come from?’ Head teacher East Midlands
What about difficult pupils?
‘Local authorities have to provide for all pupils and those children who cannot cope in mainstream often spend some time in Pupil Referral Units. It would be wrong to make blanket statements but PRUs are unlikely to be a popular option for academies.’ Carol Allen, SEN expert and speaker at the show
‘PRUs are a resource that is held in trust by a local authority. It is a collective, collaborative resource for all schools in the community and I fear that academisation will lead to a fracturing of the education service.’ Darren Northcott, National Officer for Education at teachers’ union NASUWT
‘I’ve heard that some academies (and schools) don’t want to take special needs children who may lower their academic results. When you come from a philosophy that values all children equally and thinks that we have to do even more for those who have special educational needs, that’s really hard to take. The truth is there is great inclusive practice in both academies and schools and there is poor inclusive practice across both.’ Malcolm is Executive Director for SEND & Inclusion at Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) and speaker at the show who referred me to his article in Special Needs Jungle
‘I worry about Multi Academy Trusts cherry picking the students that they want.’ Barbara SENCO, south west
Will support services be safe?
‘We work in partnership with a range of schools mainstream academies and free schools and this won’t change. We are a trading service and quality services will thrive under the new system.’ Heather, Service Lead for Pupil and School Support, midlands
‘There has been less money for special needs this year so we have all lost hours and are earning less. That also means less support for some pupils.’ Gemma, a midlands teaching assistant in a school which is part of an academy foundation.
It is simply replacing one type of organisation with another. Schools need support services and so do academies. There is no rush. It is not going to happen in a hurry.’ Dave, Local authority business development leader, south east
Severing links with local communities
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, feels strongly about this: ‘Forcing schools to become academies – and leaving them unaccountable to local communities – is the wrong approach. Local authorities are needed to ensure good planning and fairness across a local area. They can provide for the efficient pooling of resources, including legal help and support services for pupils with special educational needs.’
‘I thought parents had to be “consulted” about a school becoming an academy. Now they have no choice and no voice.’ Nigel, parent Warwickshire
They only want parents if they have useful business skills. It doesn’t seem to be about he children any more.’ Sarah, Parent governor Coventry
‘I am governor at our local primary school. We seemed to be spending so much of our time talking about whether we were going to become an academy that we had stopped focusing on the needs of the children so I insisted we take it off the agenda for the next few months. It is now firmly back on the agenda.’ Chris, Herefordshire
‘The idea of increased autonomy is very attractive. At the moment schools have their own governors and are answerable to the community. I worry that there will be a disconnect and that schools and they lose their identity. I would advise schools to try and choose a Multi Academy Trust that doesn’t like academies.’ Ben, primary headteacher East Midlands
If you want to protest against total academisation you can sign the petition here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/124702