Academies. Built on promises, promises which ultimately concluded with: promises of a better education system for the UK. Promises of better schools. Promises of “No more failing schools”! No more mediocre! But what is really happening behind the closed doors of our local ‘Academised’ Community Colleges and Schools?
Since 2000 and the coalition government, the goal was to replace underperforming and ‘failing’ schools by giving them more autonomy. What this meant was that school leaders were given a wad of cash to distribute how they saw fit... however, unlike the previously LA supported schools, they would have to generate income year on year, much like a business.
Parents were invited to welcome in the new age of academies. In deprived and desperate areas of the UK, the Government gave a golden carrot to Head teachers and gave them the power to be free from the Local Authority's (LA) ball and chain. Some official lines were: “Academies, operating in England, are publicly funded independent schools... Academies benefit from greater freedoms to help innovate and raise standards" and "These include freedom from local authority control, the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff, freedom around the delivery of the curriculum and the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days” (1).
Freedom equals innovation.
Freedom equals greater success.
The LAs, it was implied, are failing the school system, letting down our children by inadequate support and by wasting tax payers money. It was stressed that by giving Headteachers of Academies more power, over pay, conditions and curriculum, children would do better in school. Quite how this would work - the mechanics of the scheme - were (and still are) a grey area.
However, freedom also equals responsibility.
Freedom from Government support.
Freedom from local authority support.
And so, LA support teams were at risk of losing their jobs. And they did. Subsequently, the LA ‘businesses’ became privatized and some staff saved their jobs. Others moved onto pastures new.
This left Academies having to pay separately, from their wad of cash, for the ‘newly privatized’ support systems. This included important external provisions like educational psychologists, educational welfare officers, caterers and so on.
Hang on. Companies bought and privatized LA provisions? Yes. Those local authority provisions that were judged 'inadequate' and failures to schools were bought up by private firms. Who saw that coming? Not me.
But Babcock, for example, did. Babcock is a private firm which as well as education services also specialises in Nuclear warfare, with a finger in the pie of NHS privatization and the privatization of National Rail. According to their own website, babcockinternational.com, “Babcock International is a multinational corporation headquartered in the United Kingdom. It specialises in managing complex assets and infrastructure. Although the company has civil contracts, its main business is with public bodies, particularly the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence and Network Rail.”
The company invested in ‘buying up’ LA services (which were deemed corrupt and failing) and then charge schools for a private service. These services, which would have previously fallen under the LA remit and would not have cost the schools more than an annual subscription, suddenly became expensive extras they can’t always stretch to.
It’s kind of like paying your taxes and having access to an annual subscription to a medicine you need and then being told that they’ve stopped that deal. That your taxes no longer include that medicine. Then they say they’re going to give you a lump sum of money, to help (which by the way also has to be used for other people’s medicine). But that each month’s subscription is going to cost you three times as much... it doesn’t take a maths specialist to work out that the lump sum is quickly going to run out and that you’re going to have to make difficult decisions about whether to buy the medicine (which you need) and/or who to buy it for. So it’s kind of like that but also not at all like that. Because I could also just be describing what is happening in the NHS, couldn’t I?
Anyway, after underperforming Academies were not improving in this scheme, in 2010 the Government encouraged schools that had been rated Outstanding to become academies themselves. Then they could ‘buddy up’ with local underperforming academies to form Mutli-Academy Trusts (MATs). Suddenly the status of Academies rose - there were, for once, Outstanding Academies... not achieved quite the way we were sold it, but achieved by signing up more schools that already held an Outstanding OFSTED rosette.
Under the MAT (multi-acadmy trust) initiative, a group of schools - or rather their governors - appoints a CEO (usually a previous Headteacher) who oversees all the schools, as well as all of the Head teachers and subsequent staff and students. What they actually do is beside the point. And what they actually earn, according to Sir David Carter (ex-south was regional CEO) is “good value for money”.
Suddenly that wad of cash provided to the Academy, by the Government, has been used up by paying for another level of management, putting schools into a deeper deficit - which is further exacerbated by cuts to Government spending in schools (in real terms). I won’t go into this right now - I am sure you’ve seen the headlines?
What about those promises? To “innovate and raise standards”?
The truth is, despite the introduction of CEOs, MAT coordination between schools (which actually already happened and was managed by the LAs) and pie in the sky aim to reduce poorly performing schools, the education system is struggling. Really struggling.
You may have seen the BBC program ‘School’? If you didn’t, I’d recommend you watch some of it for a flavor of the system as it stands today. Maybe you read the recent Guardian article (other newspapers are available) about a Stockport school's Headteacher and Governors finding no other choice but to close early every Friday? This is as well making HUGE cuts to vital school services. (2)
These highly paid CEOs are not radicalizing education or driving up results and performance. Head teachers are forced to make cuts, but where? From experience and anecdotes and reports like the one above, it is the lower end, the ‘under achievers’ and the special education sector, post-16 and extra-curricular that are hardest hit. A national attempt to keep schools at the top of the league tables mean Headteachers are unwilling to let their results slip and so high performers, higher previous attainers and in particular, closing the gap between girls and boys, are the main foci.
This is not the reality of the Academy dream, I am certain. Or at least I am hopeful.
When the coalition Government chose this course for our community colleges and schools I am sure they didn’t imagine that Academies would fail. The really shocking thing, for me at least and I am sure for others, is that they are lying about the value and progress of Academies. Through the freedom of information act you can access the results of academies. You can also read some concerns about it in a bbc article from 2016 here: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-36014563.
The findings from a recent report by the Education Policy Institute are very interesting and are based on evidence. It was led by independent investigators and experienced educators - see page 2 for their impressive roles and responsibilities (3). “Our evidence points to an initial (and significant) improvement in GCSE scores in the year prior to and after becoming a sponsored academy. However, we cannot attribute this trend to anything that may have been implemented by the academy sponsor – as it, in part, occurred before academisation. It may however be a result of the incentives generated by the academisation policy, which the government may well argue is a success in itself. Alternatively, it could be that these schools were improving in any case (perhaps as a result of competitive pressures or other interventions targeting schools likely to be subject to ‘forced’ sponsored academy conversion), and so the fact that they became academies is not relevant. Further analysis is required to try and establish whether there is a direct, causal impact of a school becoming a sponsored academy on attainment.“
A new White Paper proposal, laid out in 29th April 2016 version, read: “The White Paper proposes that local authorities would no longer maintain schools, and an all academy system would be created. The proposed system would include:
- Most schools becoming part of multi-academy trusts (MATs);
- A reformed role for local authorities, focusing on duties such as ensuring sufficiency of school places, supporting vulnerable pupils, and acting as a champion for parents;
- A new legal framework for an all academy system.”
When under discussion in the House of Commons, Government officials raised their concerns that seem to have been silenced over the years: “The proposals have proved highly controversial. In particular, questions have been raised about the desirability of such large-scale reforms in the context of other challenges, the impact on local democracy and teachers’ pay and condition of an all academy system, and whether sufficient MAT capacity can be created to provide a high quality academised system. The question of whether academy status is in itself a boost to school standards has also been a key focus of the debate.”
One more thing to consider. If Academies are the education system for the future - to bring UK education in line with the most successful in the world: essentially the use of MATs has been awarded the golden globe of education (despite no evidence of a positive impact) - then why have the Government needed to set up the The Regional School Commissioners?
What’s The RSC? I’ll let https://schoolsweek.co.uk/regional-school-commissioner-pay-revealed/ explain: “the commissioners are part of the government’s middle tier of accountability for academies, brought in last September and tasked with tackling underperformance and boosting the number of academy sponsors... In December, in a written answer to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, the DfE’s permanent secretary Chris Wormald gave the estimated running costs for the RSCs and their offices for the first year as £4.5 million.”
A middle man is a middle man is a middle man is a middle man.
Goodbye education funding.