Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

In R.Richardson on May 25, 2011 at 9:19 am

The push towards “academy status” for schools. By RUTH RICHARDSON

The word “academy” has traditionally had a somewhat esoteric ring to it (as in the Royal Academy or the Academie Francaise). But these days, for teachers at least, it has a somewhat different connotation.

Pressure from the Government is mounting for local authorities to submit plans for improving schools, both secondary and primary, that are “performing unsatisfactorily”. They are being told that “the academy solution will be the most appropriate route to securing improvement.” Dr. Elizabeth Sidwell, the new Schools Commissioner, has said that she wants to “work with local authorities to come up with robust plans to tackle under-performance, brokering academy solutions and helping all schools to become excellent.”

NOT JUST ACADEMIES:

Academies, it should be remembered,were not the brainchild of the present Government. The architect of the academies’ programme was Lord Adonis under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government. But the push towards schools becoming academies has accelerated under Michael Gove. The idea that private companies or religious foundations might take over a school has been extended to include the concept of the “Free School”. Here, a group of parents might combine to start up a school to serve their area. “Isn’t this what the Big Society is all about?” you may ask. “Why should we be concerned?”

The concept behind academies and free schools is that each school should be autonomous.

The role of the local authority would be severely undermined. Control over planning pupil places would disappear and the provision of services such as SEN (Special Educational Needs) support, or support on building or legal issues would be under threat. Academies and free schools can implement their own admissions policies, and also devise criteria for excluding unruly pupils (at present exclusions are referred to the local authority who act as arbiters).

Surely, no school is an island; collaborative working supported by a central body is preferable to each school going its own way, and indeed competing with its neighbours.

HOW THE UNION SEES IT:

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is recommending that members get together to pass resolutions against their particular school converting to academy status. Teachers’ pay and conditions would be under severe threat. They might be expected to work longer hours and even where assurances are given that the status quo will be maintained, there is no legal guarantee that these would be honoured once academy status is achieved.

FREE SCHOOLS:

Plans for thirty free schools have now been approved.

Free schools do not have to pay national rates or follow the national curriculum. They can employ non-qualified teachers and head teachers. Funding of up to £50 million has been set aside to meet the capital needs of free schools in the current financial year.

While seeking information about academies and free schools I found myself wondering why the present Government would want to go down this road. One reason no doubt is to further erode the power of the local authorities. Another is ideological – the belief that “private is good, public is bad”. But we should remember that any group, religious, big business or otherwise, that seeks to sponsor an academy will have an agenda. Either profit or influence will be a motive. That is the nature of the private sector.

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