Our son’s school is consulting parents on its proposed transformation into an “Academy”. Since ranting about online this earlier today, I’ve been asked what my reasons are for opposing the change from a Local Authority funded school to an Academy.
Here are my reasons, which I am also using as part of my response to the consultation. I have removed some of the hyperlinks in this version as they would identify my son’s school.
- I am worried in general about the extent to which public services have been sold off over the past few decades, and have no desire to accelerate the problem further by condoning the selling off of education services as well. I believe it is the national and local government’s duty to provide high-quality education for all and to ensure every child has an equal opportunity to learn and develop. Whilst complete equality is still a way off, privatising education is a step away from it, not towards it.
- The move is transparently motivated by money. The FAQ provided by the school says plainly that the academy plan came about because the council can no longer afford to pay for schools in this area. This is a terrible state of affairs, but one that I believe should be solved by taxation and efficiency savings at the local authority rather than selling off vital services.
- I am alarmed at the rate at which the conversion to an Academy appears to be proceeding. Under the question of “When will the school become an academy” (emphasis mine), the FAQ states “We would expect that the process will take 4-6 months, work is underway and the planned conversion date is 1 November 2015.” This implies that work on converting the school to an Academy may have been underway for over a month before parents were consulted. I do appreciate that it is up to the school board and not the parents to decide. However, the Academy plan has been presented very suddenly in a way that makes the change appear almost inevitable. There is no guarantee that even 100% of teachers and parents voting against the plan would be enough to stop it.
- Becoming an Academy involves staff taking on greater responsibility for the school’s management and financial matters. This may involve existing staff, who would then have other agendas than the education of the children in their care, or it may involve hiring consultants / extra staff to manage these issues, which removes money that would be better spent employing teachers and improving facilities.
- Academies have some freedom from Local Education Authority guidelines when it comes to hiring teachers, leading to the possibility that Academies could hire less qualified teachers in order to save money. Another possibility is that Academies in higher-income areas could “poach” teachers from schools in lower-income areas by offering higher salaries, and in doing so decrease the level of equality in the education system. The NASUWT and NUT oppose the national Academies scheme, saying that it will “segregate and fragment communities”. [NASUWT Statement]
- Academies also have freedom to set their own “broad and balanced” curriculum that may diverge from the National Curriculum. As an atheist whose son attends a Church of England school, I worry that this may include a greater focus on religious studies at the expense of other subjects. Although the former Secretary of State for Education dismissed the idea that schools would be able to teach Creationism in science classes, less extreme changes in this direction could still be possible. [Politics.co.uk]
- Schools controlled by the Local Authority are democratically accountable to the local community. The Academy plan would see the school accountable to the board of a charitable trust, which while it is highly likely to operate in the school’s best interests, is not accountable to the community in which the school resides.
- Academies receive 4-10% extra funding over schools under local authority control, as they are funded direct from central government. However, this extra money would otherwise have been spent by the local authority to provide services for all local schools, such as help for children with special needs. An increasing number of local Academies means decreasing local funding for special needs children, which is extremely important. [BBC]
- No financial information has been provided alongside the proposed plans. It is therefore not clear if this extra 4-10% funding is sufficient to turn what the council say is an unaffordable school into an affordable one, particularly with the addition of an “umbrella” trust which must also be paid for. It is therefore unclear whether our son’s school would see an increase or a decrease in its net funding, and if this is a decrease, where costs would be saved.
- Academies have a poor reputation in the local area, as many local Academies were failing Comprehensive schools that were taken over (not always successfully) in order to improve their standards of education. I am concerned that the Academy “branding” will damage the reputation of our son’s school, which previously has been regarded as one of the best schools in the area.