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Is there such a thing as an ‘academy effect’?

In the midst of whirlwind changes in the education sector recently, there has been a backlash of protests.

On Wednesday 3 June, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced the beginning of the new Education and Adoption Bill to “close loopholes and speed up the turnaround of failing schools”.

“At the heart of our commitment to delivering real social justice is our belief that every pupil deserves an excellent education and that no parent should have to be content with their child spending a single day in a failing school,” said Nicky Morgan.

Labour first introduced academies to “improve pupil performance and break the cycle of low expectations,” as stated by David Blunkett. From aiming to improve struggling schools, primarily in deprived areas, the policy, which was taken over by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, now invites all schools to convert to academy status, but gives priority to those deemed by Ofsted as “good” or “outstanding”. Labour argued that the changes would benefit more privileged neighbourhoods and the best schools would attract the best teachers and resources, leaving schools already amongst the poorest, worse off.

With “good” and “outstanding” schools already converted to academies, and the pool of teachers and resources available to struggling schools being dredged of its best, academies were destined to have a better overall percentage.

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said: “Schools marooned in partnerships without effective networks find it hard to improve and just as hard to sustain improvement”.

“It doesn’t matter if they belong to a local authority or a multi-academy trust. If oversight is poor and expectations low, the problems are uniformly similar and depressingly predictable: a lack of strategy to help the weakest schools and an absence of challenge to the best.”

In addition, Alice Sullivan, a professor of education at UCL’s Institute of Education, said: “There is no robust evidence that any particular school structure or type – such as academies, free schools, faith schools – is beneficial for improving the performance of poor pupils”.

With every change in education, there are concerns from teachers, parents and communities. The DfE said: “Previously, campaigners could delay or overrule failing schools being improved by education experts by obstructing the process by which academy sponsors take over running schools.”

The National Association of Head Teachers leader, Russell Hobby, said: “Parents who have campaigned against the opaque and centralised process of academisation will be dismayed to see themselves dismissed as obstacles to be eliminated.”

Nicky Morgan seems keen on consulting parents, saying “we want everybody to have a say”, yet this new Bill will scrap the requirement for academy sponsors to consult with school communities, including parents. Nicky Morgan also said the new Bill will “remov[e] roadblocks which previously left too many pupils languishing in underperforming schools,” which fuelled the belief that this is a way for the government to make the public’s opinions redundant. A school in London was targeted for conversion despite the fact that it was improving, and had a poll of 94 percent of parents asking for it to remain a community school.

Nicky Morgan is a stickler for standards and says academy status will improve schools, but research from Ofsted concluded that there is no such thing as the ‘academy effect’.

Over 100 academies have been deemed ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, which amounts to 4.4 percent of those in existence. In comparison, less than 1.8 percent of community schools have received the same status. This begs the question: does a change in structure really equal improvement? Will these 100 academies be taken away from their sponsors? Will they be taken over by their local authorities?

Dr Mary Bousted, leader of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said there was no clear evidence that academies improved standards. The powers granted by the new Bill have been backed by leading heads as a “very positive step forward for families”; however, many headteachers could lose their jobs after this change if they are found to be leading a failing school. National Union of Teachers leader, Christine Blower called the pledge to convert up to 1,000 schools “as irrational as it is impractical. Headteachers are already in short supply so the promise to sack more of them will simply exacerbate the problem”.

However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Nicky Morgan has decided not only to ignore opposition, but silence it altogether: “We want everybody to have a say, but there comes a point at which children’s education has to be absolutely paramount”. Eventually, answers must be given for all of our questions, as it is doubtful trying to silence teachers, parents and communities will make them stop protesting.

TheSchoolBus is here, as always, to provide help through a turbulent time. Visit our dedicated topic on Academy Conversion and our ‘Need Further Help?’ service for any additional support or resources.

References:

BBC News (2015) ‘Academies – old and new explained’ <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13274090>  [Accessed: 11 June 2015]

BBC News (2015) ‘All failing schools to be academies under new bill’ <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-32978355> [Accessed: 11 June 2015]

DfE (2015) ‘Up to 1,000 failing schools to be transformed under new measures’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/up-to-1000-failing-schools-to-be-transformed-under-new-measures> [Accessed: 11 June 2015]

Metro (2015) ‘The government is privatising our school system – and disregarding parents, teachers and communities’ <http://metro.co.uk/2015/06/03/the-government-is-privatising-our-school-system-and-disregarding-parents-teachers-and-communities-5228512/> [Accessed: 11 June 2015]

The Guardian (2000) ‘Blunkett plans network of city academies’ <http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/mar/15/schools.news> [Accessed: 11 June 2015]

The Guardian (2015) ‘Education bill to close ‘loopholes’ blocking academies expansion’ <http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/03/education-bill-loopholes-academies-schools> [Accessed: 11 June 2015]

The Guardian (2010) ‘Ofsted chief says struggling schools ‘no better off’ under academy control’ <http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/dec/10/ofsted-sir-michael-wilshaw-struggling-schools-academy-neglect> [Accessed: 11 June 2015]

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One thought on “Is there such a thing as an ‘academy effect’?

  1. As I have written elsewhere, the freedoms and academic effect of academies is a smokescreen for the legal transfer of school assets into private hands. A not-for-profit, philanthropist business running a school does not need to legally own the school assets. As ever, the true agenda is a financial one – politicians serving industry, not schools or children. Evidence that this is the case is the stark failure of Nicky Morgan to acknowledge that Academies are no panacea for failure, and that it there are many ways to fix failure. Sometimes, it takes just a change of head to turn a failing school around. But marionette Morgan does not want that to be attempted. And does she mention the legal cost of school asset transfer? Tax payer money that is no guarantee for improvement.

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