Sunday, November 19The Voice of London

Academies have ‘zero evidence’ of raising achievement

‘Academies are a waste of public money’ – says leading UK Head Teacher, raising questions over their existence in the first place

Reporter – Chrys Salter

We all know of that one school in the wrong side of town, the one with the lowest GCSE results in the area year upon year and their student’s main objective is to stay out of prison, let alone make it to college or university. The conservative government have taken the ‘academy model’ introduced by the previous labour government in the early millennium, and have morphed it into something completely different, and let’s be honest, something utterly beyond recognition and salvation.  

Let’s begin by looking closely at what it means to be an academy in December 2016…

Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority. The day-to-day running of the school is with the head teacher or principal, but they are overseen by individual charitable bodies called academy trusts and may be part of an academy chain. These trusts and chains provide advice, support, expertise and a strategic overview. They control their own admissions process and have more freedom than other schools to innovate. Interestingly, they do not have to follow the national curriculum.

Sponsored Academies typically replaced one or more existing schools, but some were newly established. They were intended to address the problem of entrenched failure within English schools with low academic achievement, or schools situated in communities with low academic aspirations. Often these schools had been placed in “special measures” after an Ofsted inspection. They were expected to be creative and innovative because of their financial and academic freedoms, in order to deal with the long-term issues, they were intended to solve.

However, this is not what happened.

After the conservative government took over in 2010, the educational reform made by Michael Gove of the academy model can only be described as utter tommyrot, as he attempted to turn a sinking ship into a world class modern day destroyer…it just can’t be done. Schools of all standards were invited to ‘escape local authority control’ and go it alone, making the idea of becoming an academy one of independence rather than self-improvement.

There is one rather obvious problem with giving schools of all standards the choice to become an academy though, however. Some schools are simply not able to deal with the independence away from a strict curriculum and focused budget plan. The most obvious example of this is the Trojan horse scandal which plagued a number of academy trust schools in Birmingham, turning buildings which were one a place of learning into a camp of Islamic extremism.

Interestingly enough, as we approach the end of 2016 an increasing number of studies from a variety of research groups are finding that academy conversion does not bring about any degree of school improvement, raising questions over the government’s intentions.

Speaking to my former head teacher of an ‘outstanding’ school in north Worcestershire, who asked to remain unnamed, I was told that many people in the teaching profession view academisation as a camouflaged way to save money and responsibilities within county councils.

Speaking to VEX, she explained “It’s an absolutely disgraceful waste of public money. The thing with academies and academy chains is that they can request for more money based upon insane justifications. I know a few academies who have requested more money to appoint in-house appearance and PR managers, professional gardeners and onsite decorators. They are simply making jobs up. The government should remember that you can’t run a school like you can a business. The only watchdog making sure schools are teaching students suitable and useful content is Ofsted, but that means schools can get away with teaching rubbish for years. Just look at Trojan horse. My school is the highest performing secondary school in the district, yet we are not an academy and 90% of the other schools are. Absolute rubbish. They have zero evidence of raising achievement”

About 60 per cent of secondary schools are now academies, but just 13 per cent of primaries have converted.

Speaking publically in the summer of this year at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Commons Education Select committee goes on to warn: “There is at present no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools. The Department for Education should commission such research as a matter of urgency.” Committee chair and Conservative MP Graham Stuart said the Department for Education needed to be “less defensive” and “more open” about how it has implemented the academies scheme.

“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children,” he added. “While some chains have clearly raised attainment, others achieve worse outcomes creating huge disparities within the academy sector and compared to other mainstream schools”.

The government hopes to encourage the remaining non-academy schools to convert over the next few years.

Even though they have no clue of the outcome.

Trojan Horse Scandal - Photo of the former Park View School, Birmingham | Chrys Salter
Trojan Horse Scandal – Photo of the former Park View School, Birmingham | Chrys Salter
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