Tuesday, 17 May 2016

What you need to know about Academy Schools

Under immense public pressure, the government has rowed back from its threat to force all schools to become academies, but it has made it clear that it will still force many other to do so and it still wants all schools to be academies by 2020.  

It can seem like a dry and difficult issue, but it really matters if your school becomes an academy. In this blog we try to explain why.  

There is no evidence that Academy Schools are better schools 

 As various studies have shown and a committee of MPs reviewing the evidence concluded, there is no proof that becoming an academy does anything to improve a school. In fact there is evidence that academies that are part of chains may well deteriorate and perform worse than state schools. ecent studies have indicated that state schools overall are outperforming academies. One things you can definitely say about the drive to force schools to become academies is that it’s not based on evidence. 

Academy schools are more likely to undermine teachers working conditions and try to employ less qualifies staff. 

Teachers matter. You want the best teachers, respected and supported to teach our children. Academies run themselves like businesses, because they have to make a surplus every year and they often have to pay big senior staff salaries. The only way they can do this is by cutting staff costs. This can mean trying to squeeze more teaching out of hard-working staff or cutting access to other conditions of service. In an NUT survey, 43% of teachers at academies reported coming under pressure to move onto worse contracts with rising workloads.  

Academy Schools tend to exclude children they think may damage their results 

All schools are under pressure to deliver results in tests. But community schools have strict rules that say they have to provide education to everyone, equally. Academies have more freedom to change their admissions policies and when combined with the obsession with results, this can have terrible consequences. Studies have found that academies are manipulating their admissions criteria to skew their intake away from children they think will damage their Ofsted results. Academies are also resorting to permanently excluding children they see as a ‘poor quality’. How can you be sure that your child will not fall victim to academies attempting to ‘game’ their admissions or disciplinary policies in pursuit of results? And what would you do if you thought that was happening? Which leads us to… 

Academy schools are less accountable to parents 

If you have a problem with your school, as things stand, you have several ways of getting something done about it. You can raise it with the Local Authority or its elected representatives, who have a responsibility to ensure that the schools are delivering on their core mission for the borough. There are also parent governors who are currently elected to school governing bodies. Academies on the other hand are essentially private companies who have a legal contract with the government in Whitehall to provide education in your area. They have no other responsibility except to remain solvent. Who will you complain to if you have a problem? The government?
Academy schools become more like businesses   

Once a school becomes an academy, the people running it may remain the same for a while but the evidence shows that governors and staff can quickly turn over in academy schools. Academies typically look to make their governing bodies smaller and increase the power of ‘super-heads’ so that they become more like the directors of multi-company enterprises. And power is concentrated in fewer hands, the evidence suggests that academies are more vulnerable to financial mismanagement, cronyism and nepotism. Academies have been plagued by a succession of stories based on investigations by the Education Funding Agency, such as the Perry Beeches scandal. A school’s ethos simply won’t survive the changes that academy status brings.  

This is not about education – but turning our schools into sources of profit 

In summary, there’s little evidence that academisation is about standards and while the government has shied away from forcing all schools to become academies, it’s now clear that it was never really about giving parents more choice. In reality, this is part of a longer term project to break up state schools and turn them into private companies. This will make it easier to ultimately turn them into schools that can be run for profit, as in parts of the USA, Sweden and Latin America. It also provides huge opportunities for companies to sell education technology to companies to reduce their ‘costs’ (teachers) and for private equity funds to exploit schools’ land assets. A small number of people stand to make a lot of money out of our schools and our children’s education. That’s what is driving the government’s push to force schools to become academies. It brings their dream a little closer. Unfortunately the record of for-profit schools in the US and Sweden shows that while shareholders turn nice profits, it is children and communities that suffer.   

What can we do? 

The government’s recent actions show that it knows that the tide is turning against academies and free schools and they may be running out of time to force their vision on us. We need to build support for a more positive vision and more positive policies for our schools. That's one reason why  OCOS developed our Charter. But in the meantime, it is possible to stop some schools becoming academies and it’s possible to mitigate some of the worst effects of academisation. But this requires parents and teachers to unite to campaign and show that they are not prepared to sit back and watch their schools being taken away from them.  
  • Talk to other parents – set yourself a target to talk to three other parents and direct them to this blogsite where they can get more information. 
  • Let us know if you’re happy to be a local contact for your school – we need people to tell us what’s happening in our local schools and to give information out to other parents.  
  • Write to your local MP – Use the points in this post to write to your MP setting out your concerns about academisation and asking them to support our local schools. 
  • Write to your local Councillor – we need the Local Authority to hear the same message… 
  • Share this blog widely on social media. 
Help us turn this build an active community that unites parents and teachers alike in campaigning for better schools for all our children. 

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