Were Academies ever a good idea? An Academic question? Or one which requires consideration?

I was at the Fabian Society Hustings last night in London on 14th June 2010.

Following a question regarding 3 things the contenders would rather Labour hadn’t done or had got wrong, Gaby Hinsliffe asked the audience for other suggestions. Someone shouted ‘SATs’ and I said ‘Academies’ as I don’t think Labour should have introduced academies. This raised a small cheer but then a woman in front got very cross and started raising her voice and pointing her finger at me in disagreement. I didn’t catch what she said but she sure liked academies. Ed Balls then had a little joke with her saying ‘you can be my campaign manager’ and something about giving her a fiver.

Teachers have moved away in their droves from supporting the Labour Party because of SATs, League Tables and Academies. Whilst Ed Balls and some other Labour Party people may draw attention to the fact that under Labour it was ‘failing’ schools which were offered academy status whereas now it is the opposite end of the Ofsted spectrum i.e. ‘outstanding’ schools, this should not detract from the arguments against all academies. Academies fall outside local authority control, are effectively outside the state system, cost a huge amount of money in start-up costs and reduce workers’ rights. There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that they are not always a beneficial force in the education of the children they are supposed to be catering for. From an education point of view I do not accept that academies through their structure and the nature of the fact they are sponsored and taken out of local authority control makes them good value for money or good for children.

I think it’s a shame that at the hustings Ed Balls didn’t take the opportunity to practice what he was preaching and demonstrate that he is interested in listening to the people. Rather than ignoring me (and those who applauded my comment) he could have invited me to communicate with him via his website and defended his position.




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9 Responses to Were Academies ever a good idea? An Academic question? Or one which requires consideration?

  1. mrkirkman says:

    Hi, I read this with interest. I have just made the move of working from an LEA foundation secondary to a neighbouring start-up all-through academy. It was a difficult decision for me to make as I had previously been totally against academies as some kind of ‘answer’ to the problems of particularly inner-city education.

    I am still on the fence. The academy I work for will be a good one. The head teacher and SLT are all extremely experienced, accept no BS and really have the interests of the children in mind. They also seem to treat their staff very well. The academy I will work for is part of a national network run by a charity (I am sure that you can guess, but I can let you know in a message if you want) and I think that network in itself is one of the academies strengths, as are the resources that we get to do research, case studies and to really well-resource the school. I don’t in that sense, and I know you won’t think this either, that academies in themselves are inherently wrong.

    But I accept – and this is entirely my niggling problem – that academies aren’t and will never be the answer to some of the educational issues we face. Free schools even more so. (I wrote an blog on this very issue myself http://tinyurl.com/2vf4msu ) It’s funny, I was at a conference today where one headteacher and rather influential academic in education called the free schools policy ‘perilous ground’ and had a little rant about them. But many of the arguments against free schools can easily be pitted against academies. You can probably gather I am in quite a moral dilemma here.

    But I am still a steadfast Labour supporter, I will continue to support them ideologically. Perhaps they got it wrong on academies – but the intention of attempting to create a better education system was there I think and I support that.

    • anpa2001 says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Just read your blog and think this sums up what you and I both agree: “The answer is making all schools decent so that choice doesn’t need to exist and that all students, no matter where they come from, can succeed.”

      I do think there should be plenty of money spent on areas with many deprived pupils but I don’t think the money should go through academies, free schools or any other ‘middle man’. Proper comprehensive state-funded education is what is needed with support provided through services provided by the local authority. Networks are excellent but shouldn’t need a charity or other organistion to facilitate them, it is surely possible to do this via the local authority.

      I am solid Labour too. But I don’t agree with SATs, League Tables, ‘parental choice’ and academies/free schools. I don’t see them as traditional Labour policies/ideas and I wish they would be scrapped.

  2. mrkirkman says:

    I agree with you on this and the other ‘new Labour’ issues that you mention – I would add the Teach First programme to that list though! I am still a sceptic about academies and I am still unsure about working in one. But I know that really, on a day 2 day basis, what matters is the students I teach. Hopefully I can make a difference in their lives.

    And I should have added that I also agree that networking should happen anyway regardless of whether a school is an academy or not and that I think LEA work is really important (my academy is co-sponsored by the LEA so we have lots of ties with it still).

    I will keep you updated on how it all goes in the new place though.

  3. Hmm, tricky. If there’s room, I think I might join Mrkirkham on the fence!

    I do think Academies helped to kick-start a transformation of some schools who were under-performing and were stuck in a reputational rut. New badge, new logo, new name, new Head, new staff: I can see how this can really change a school, for the better.

    But I really don’t know why they had to do away with employment rights and completely remove themselves from local authority control.

    I think the Academy debate (i.e. saying what we don’t want), could detract from saying what we do want: good/improving schools, paid for from the public purse, fair admissions, working collaboratively with schools in local area, working with the whole community (not just best/brightest) etc etc etc. So, while I can see the benefit of Academies on a case-by-case basis, are they a panacea? Do we want ever-more of them, particularly as a reward for excellence? No, probably not.

    As for free schools – don’t get me started. Actually, too late: http://bit.ly/avpURW

    • anpa2001 says:

      Hiya, thanks for the comment. I stand by the anti-academy stance. I am not convinced that pumping the same amount of money into an existing state controlled school would be less beneficial. By all means draft in a new Head if that’s what’s required but like you say why alter terms and conditions (unless you want to leave the way open for profit?). And for outstanding schools – what a joke – if it’s outstanding now, why change it?
      Free schools – yep, totally appalling, divisive and elitist!

  4. Chris Horner says:

    I’m completely opposed to Academies: they do not advance the cause of excellent education for ALL our children.

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