How will academisation change our educational landscape?
Posted 2 years ago
Last month, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced plans to make every school in England an Academy by 2020 in her white paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’. This monumental change to the setup of all UK state schools has unsurprisingly had a large reaction from teachers and educational commentators alike.
Mary Bousted, the leader of The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, has been strongly in opposition of the forced academisation plans and delivered a speech attacking the legislation at the recent ATL Conference stating that “only three of the top 20 multi-academy trusts (MATS) achieve above average value added results, (or to put it another way, 85% of the academy chains perform below national average in terms of pupil progress)”. Echoing the concerns of a large proportion of educational industry she stated that academisation is “about running schools as businesses and it's about breaking the public service ethos of teachers and school leaders.”
Nicky Morgan stated in her white paper that “Multi-academy trusts (MATs) and teaching school alliances have spread collaboration across the country, with the best school leaders providing challenge and support for underperforming schools. The school-led system is becoming a reality and...it is delivering results.” The intention is to “‘sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes’” and speed up the process of dealing with failing schools by taking them out of local authority control and putting them in the hands of academy sponsors.”
The key points of the paper revolve around autonomy, accountability and sustainability achieved through removing the responsibility of the maintenance of school from local authorities. We thought we’d provide a run through of these key points and how teachers and educational specialists have responded to them.
Greater autonomy through financial freedom
The intent of greater autonomy is to empower teachers and leaders to be able to implement change in their school in a way which is specifically beneficial to them. The key aspect of this autonomy is financial freedom. Peter Lee, Head of Q3 Academy states “Being an academy means we are able to bring in expertise outside of education, from our sponsor...We can still work collaboratively, but are not beholden to the bureaucracy of local authority provision”. This freedom creates greater responsibility for schools to use their budgets effectively: “Initially there is little impact on teaching staff, but from a management point of view, it is critical to invest in quality support staff or provide good training for existing staff.”
Mike Britland, a teacher at an academy, however, suggests that financial freedom is the only benefit and that there are “no curriculum freedoms”, instead “every school has to teach the basics and as more vocational or option subjects are pushed out of the league tables, the choice in curriculum delivery is becoming ever smaller”. Further criticism comes from Kevin Courtney of the NUT who advises “The Government’s ultimate agenda is the privatisation of education with schools run for profit.” There are also suggestions that the government’s plans are unaffordable, with the £1.5bn budget allotted leaving only £20,000 per school to ‘academise’ them.
Can academisation improve attainment?
The move away from schools being run by local authorities has been suggested by Morgan to improve levels of performance. “While conventional schools can call on their local authorities for help, academies...may be denied access to advice and guidance”, whereas “The flexibility offered to academies means that schools can select their governing bodies based on their needs, so a recognition of the importance of support and financial advice is crucial.” While over 60% of secondary schools are now academies only 14% of primary schools currently have academy status.
Roger Gough, the Cabinet Member for Education and Health Reform at Kent County Council, suggests that non-academy primary schools are showing the highest levels of improvement: “Overall, schools have delivered a significant improvement in standards and performance in recent years...But in this improvement, academies and maintained schools have advanced in step. In Kent – and in many other parts of the country – the strongest improvement in Ofsted ratings recently has been seen in the predominantly maintained primary sector.”
Multi-Academy Trusts – collaborative communities?
Nicky Morgan, in the new legislation, deems the current system “inefficient and unsustainable”; instead she suggests the academy system will “rebalance incentives in the accountability system so that great leaders are encouraged to work in challenging schools and areas” in order to “drive sustainable self-improvement”. In financial terms, academies would also be intended to start with state funding and eventually become financially self sustaining. There are some measurable improvements in schools neighbouring academies: “a majority of converter and sponsored academies report that they give support to other schools... Support included joint practice development, running training courses, developing middle leadership and boosting senior leadership capacity.” This would suggest that the collaboration between schools in a multi-academy trust may be beneficial to performance. One teacher working in an academy states “There is a greater sense of belonging now than before – there is a great emphasis on collaboration, with colleagues from within the school and from others in the multi-academy trust.”
On the other hand Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, suggests that “Academy chains simply do not have the resources or expertise to resolve problems where they occur”, and that “it is surprising that some continue to operate over such wide geographical areas”. There are also fears rising that small primary schools that are deemed unprofitable will be closed, with ATL members suggesting the “academisation programme will lead to multi-academy trusts being unwilling to take on rural schools because they are too costly and difficult to manage.”
A change for school communities
As stated in the white paper local authorities will no longer maintain schools but will work ”as partners with the schools system”. The responsibilities of local authorities will be reduced to including the placement of pupils in schools, “identifying, assessing and making provision for children with special educational needs and disability” and “acting as champions for all parents and families”. The Bow Group, however, has declared that it opposes the plans because they contradict the government’s claims of a “commitment to localism” by removing “the power of elected, local representatives to influence the development of education in their communities, and bestow all powers on central government.”
Despite claims that academy trusts champion parents, Mary Bousted notes that “Forced academisation is about taking parents out of the picture - no requirement for parent governors. Instead the Government states ‘we will also expect every academy to put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with all parents, to listen to their views and feedback’".
Schools’ Reactions to the new Academy legislation
Reactions to the new rulings have been swift. Birmingham City Council has now passed a motion blocking mass-academisation of its schools. Labour councillor Brigid Jones stated: “This council believes that the government should not force well-achieving schools into a reorganisation that the school does not believe to be in the best interests of its pupils” also suggesting that academy chains lack specific local knowledge which local authorities can provide to “pull agencies together”. This action from one of England’s largest LAs could create a ripple effect through the country.
Compulsory academisation is undoubtedly a contentious subject. We have seen teachers protesting against the Education Secretary’s plans, whilst Nicky Morgan has announced that “There is no reverse gear on academisation.”
New Era's reaction to the new Academy legislation
Many academies and multi-academy trusts are currently working to excellent standards and enjoying the benefits of increased financial autonomy, while at the same time there are a great deal of schools operating under their local authorities that are functioning excellently for their staff, pupils and parents. There is no clear outcome to the plans as yet and the situation could change drastically by the proposed date of 2020 for which countrywide academisation would be implemented.
Whatever the final outcome for local authorities and academies in the UK, at New Era we are aware that many schools are set to go through huge changes over the coming years, and we are committed to adapting to the evolving demands of the educational landscape.
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