Today the Tory Government have announced that they plan to turn all state schools that haven’t yet changed into Academies, regardless of the wishes of the teachers, parents or other stakeholders in those schools that so far have decided not to leave the Local Education Authority (LEA) family.
This is in spite of a recent report by the Head of Ofsted that some Academies Chains ‘have “serious weaknesses” as bad as the local authorities they were intended to replace’. Indeed, there is no proof that Academies, either standalone ones or those in Chains, provide a better education than LEA supported schools.
Given that Academies (along with so-called “Free” schools) do not have to follow the National Curriculum, so do not have to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, including Relationship & Sex Education, it is possible that these school give their students a poorer education, focussing more on getting students through Exams than making sure they are prepared for adult life.
Given this, we must ask why this Government seems so fixated on forcing this system of school governance on all schools regardless of proof it works or the wishes of those in the schools affected?
I believe it is down to three reasons, none of which have any bearing on the quality of education.
Firstly, this is an attack on Local Government. Education has been one of the big jobs County & Unitary Councils still do and it makes up a large part of their budget. By turning all schools into Academies, this will take that roll away from County, City & Town Halls, away from locally accountable Councillors and responsibility will pass to unaccountable Academies (some of whom are doing away with local & parent governors) and to the Department of Education (which I heard called the worse performing Government Department on the radio today). This Government does not like accountable councillors as they have a tendency to do what is best for their local people and not what the Tories Ministers want, so it is simpler to remove them from any responsibility in this area.
Secondly, the Tories want to weaken the teachers & their Unions. As Academies do not have to abide by National Pay Agreements, making all schools Academies will weaken the Teachers’ Unions and cheapen the profession in the eyes of their employers. We are already seeing teachers leave the profession in droves in this country due to the stress of the way they are treated and force to work, when their pay is cut as well, this will become an exodus and that will damage the education of a generation of young people.
Thirdly, I think that this measure is part of this right-wing ideologically driven Government plan to push all education into the private sector. Currently the Academies that run schools are not allowed to make a profit but there is nothing to stop them contacting in services from companies that can. Without the independent Governors to oversee what they do, much of these financial arrangements are hidden and who knows what some Academies do with the millions they get to run schools?
I haven’t had time to go into the other question this measure raises (& I suspect that the Government hasn’t either) like how will be responsible for making sure there are enough school places in an area or what happens to pupils excluded (often for the flimsiest of reasons) from Academies? Both these are now the responsibility of LEAs but if they do not control schools, how can they do this?
I hope that the opposition parties make it very clear that when they get back into power they will reverse the retrograde step, one that moves education back 100 years. If not we can look forward to our children & grandchildren getting an ever narrower school “education” that does not prepare them for later life and in 25 years’ time we will all be wondering where it went wrong and bemoan our failed education system.