Our local comprehensive has apparently announced to staff that it will convert into an academy on 1 November. As the school term only began at the end of last week, it’s hard to see what (if any) consultation the governors have carried out, though I’m sorely tempted to put in a freedom of information request to find out.
In the meantime, I’ve been checking out the website of the Anti-Academy Alliance, a campaign composed of “unions, parents, pupils, teachers, councillors and MPs”. The website summarises the reasons why the government’s academies programme is damaging for education, including:
- A two-tier education system in which “outstanding” schools go it alone, leaving local education authorities to deal with the schools that need most help – but on reduced budgets.
- Removal of schools from community ownership and democratic control, purely by a vote of the governors (who currently lack any mandate for this, having been elected before these proposals were introduced).
- While academies are given more money, they will now have to buy in services previously provided by the LEA. (Employment lawyers in particular are going to do well out of this.)
- In practice, many academies will not be run by their headteachers and governors, but by academy chains and edubusinesses. (Parents, get ready for being told on a regular basis that your school “needs approval from head office” before taking some course of action. You don’t get to elect “head office”, by the way.)
- Loss of co-ordinated approaches to teacher training, Special Educational Needs, Early Years teaching and so on.
- Inability for LEAs to plan new schools to reflect population changes.
On the positive side, though, Toby Young will be able to get his children learning Latin without having to pay school fees, so it’s not all bad.
Attempts are being made to set up a local campaign along the lines of the national Anti Academies Alliance. In the case of our local comprehensive, I suspect there is little scope for reversing the decision to convert. Local campaigns should be aimed more widely than the schools that are currently proposed to convert. As someone put it to me by email:
once a critical mass of schools “go academy” the LEA is virtually abolished. That has huge implications for a whole range of services which will ultimately be much more expensive if they can be provided at all.
That is probably the message that needs to be put across: not just the implications for each individual school, but for the consequences for the educational system in the borough as a whole (in which parents already feel disempowered by the complexities and uncertainties of the admissions process, a process which can only be made more complicated by conversions to academy status).
The question is whether parents can be persuaded that it’s better for non-academy schools to hang together rather than to try to gain the perceived short-term advantages for “first-movers” out of LEA control. In many ways it reminds me of demutualisation of building societies, where people were happy to grab the money and run – and only later did we face the consequences.