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The madness of small primary schools becoming academies

Gove’s vituperative speech today attacking anyone who dares to question his academies policy has genuinely surprised me and highlighted for many people like me, who are not ideologically opposed to the academies programme per se, that there are some very serious flaws in the policy. I could speculate that his speech is actually a warning shot at people on his own side who are becoming deeply concerned that “academisation” is simply not the right thing for many schools. In particular, I’ve spoken to a number of supporters of his policies in general, who are very worried about the consequences of small primary schools becoming academies. They, like many other experts, are flummoxed about how these schools will survive as entirely independent entities. While larger secondary schools have the economies of scale to become academies, it simply makes no sense for small primaries to be responsible for things like the maintaining of the fabric of their buildings, the payroll, the intricacies of the budget and the thousand other things schools have to attend to. The only realistic option for them is to join a private chain; as yet, there aren’t enough of them around though to meet the potential demand. The truth of the matter is that the small rural primary school needs a local authority to “look after it” in the way that Adrian Elliot spoke so eloquently about at the Wellington Festival last year.

The academy programme may well be popular with many secondary schools but they can, by and large, cope; but can small primary schools? Furthermore, this suggests that small free schools, which are effectively academies, without any private company may well be in trouble too. Gove’s speech addressed none of these issues; instead he went entirely on the offensive, characterising anyone who is skeptical about elements of the programme as dogmatic ideologues who couldn’t give a monkeys for poor students.

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Comments, replies and queries

  1. You’re guilty of extending “the soft despotism of low expectations” to teachers. Can primary school head teachers and their deputies “cope” with “the intricacies of their budgets”? You may be surprised, Francis.

    • Howard says:

      You’re right to point out that primary school heads will already have ample experience of managing budgets under LMS. However, conversion to academy status will require a step-change in their financial management expertise if they are, for example, to comply with the full rigours of accruals-based accounting, including the composition of a balance sheet for the school for the very first time, the assumptiom from the LA of responsibility for pension arrangements, and the completion of the annual 100 question Financial Management and Evaluation assessment form from the YPLA, compared to the much shorter 23 question Schools Financial Value Standard.

    • It’s about economies of scale and smaller budgets, Toby, not ‘low expectations’.

      • Surely the most important fact is that a very small proportion of primaries – many of which are good or outstanding – have opted voluntarily for academy status. They are effectively voting with their feet and understand that going it alone is not right for their schools, especially in the current climate. Far from giving people choice, Gove is obsessed with imposing his solutions.
        There are countless examples of primary schools which have improved (from the sort of low base to which Gove refers) within a local authority structure and with the support of good governors and active parents. My own children’s former primary school being a very good example of this. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that schools have to become academies to make this sort of step change.
        Only an ideologue ( which is what Gove is) would believe otherwise.

    • gary says:

      As a Community Governor at a rural school i can firmly tell you that whilst the Heads and Deputies argument is total nonsense. our school has a Head who teaches full time and a deputy, who, guess what, teaches full time and…well thats your lot. there is no one else. The school has 21 children up to the age of 9 shared across 2 rooms in 4 sections. the ‘teachers’ teach by ability not age do they/we need local authority help? Of course we do.

      As a governing body we are more than capable of understanding a P&L a balance sheet and the full financial implications of running a small school, however we do not have the financial clout to draw away from the LEA support. Our school is very rural and 10 miles away from the nearest small towns of Leek or Buxton. we struggle to find a voice, support and children.

      Academy status, no. What a small school like ours gives is a fantastic close learning for the children in their care, what we need is a wrap around support organisation to provide advice and an order of magnitude to help with the financial burden.

  2. Natacha Kennedy says:

    Interestingly this is the same line of attack preferred by proponents of Charter schools in the US. “Anyone who disagrees with me is against improving education.” This was the kind of attack made on Diane Ravitch who is quite clearly not against improving schools. this looks like a particularly desperate attempt by Gove to justify the unjustifiable.

  3. Natacha Kennedy says:

    @Toby Young. As a teacher I would like to be able to get on with teaching rather than to have to waste huge amounts of time worrying about budgets. The expectation that I could do so is a high expectation. Your inference that I should have to do so seems to me like a particularly low expectation for the teaching profession.

    • The only primaries that will be forced to convert to academies are those where < 60% of pupils are failing to meet target level 4 at KS2 and they'll be partnered with existing, outstanding academies or brought under the wing of successful academy chains. I imagine back office functions, like payroll, will be centralised, thereby reducing the amount of time the teaching staff have to spend on "worrying about budgets" rather than increasing it. Francis's point was a non sequitur, but I couldn't resist drawing attention to its condescending subtext.

      Instead of just knocking Michael Gove's proposal for rescuing the children in failing primaries, why don't you and Francis come up with a better one? The local authorities currently responsible for them aren't doing a good job. What alternative would you suggest?

      • Over many years there has been a problem with very highly respected small primaries being labelled as being failing schools by Ofsted the moment they have a cohort who cannot achieve the 60% (which is statistically more likely to happen in small cohorts) because the Ofsted framework does not fit mixed year group teaching and many inspectors do not have the appropriate experience to understand it.

        A group of highly respected heads from small primaries got together and decided to work with government to ensure these issues were redressed and they made a substantial contribution to the construction of the new primary curriculum, to ensure that the strengths of their high quality established practice would be explicitly recognised.

        At the last moment Michael Gove shut all this work down.

        So a better way forward be that the new primary curriculum be instated so that excellent primaries can protect themselves against massive inappropriate intervention if they get a single cohort who cannot achieve the 60%.

        • Rebecca I think your point about statistical difficulty is fair. On the whole though primaries that stay in underperformance for long periods reflect badly on the local authority, and there is nothing to lose in becoming an academy.

          • There is potentially much to lose if the Academy fails. There is no evidence that the conferring or enforcing of Academy status on a school automatically guarantees success. Many LA schools up and down the country have improved with the help of the LA. Many Academies fail or in danger of failing – Gove just doesn’t publicise them, opting instead to pumping out the perception that the name “Academy” = outstanding school and “Comprehensive” = bad school. It’s much more complex than that. Gove’s solution is flawed and is a proven failure in other countries who have adopted the same type of ideology.

      • I assume your alternative is to set up a WLFS primary school that will feed into the secondary school? Perhaps with the Admissions Code of the latter tweaked to allow priority to the primary school children, who will have spent 6 years indoctrinated in the politics, prejudices and personal whims of the Hon Toby Young?

        You ask the question about suggesting alternatives, but many have been advanced over and over again on this site and elsewhere. Forced conversion to these new schools do not guarantee improvement to the entire system across the country – as you well know, because it has been pointed out to you ad naumseum – Charter Schools have utterly failed to raise standards across the United States and has not lifted America higher in the PISA ratings.

        Finland – equity, no choice, no segregation, no standardized tests, no private schools, no free-market interference, no central government interference, great teaching, great resources, eradicating social inequalities. That is one suggestion. Arguing that Finland is a small country with low levels of poverty with no private schools and little immigration is not really an argument when the policy is to adopt a failed model from America that has guaranteed best results for education companies. You do the math, Toby.

      • That’s incorrect, Toby. Some schools under threat of being forced to convert (my children’s, for example) are not below the floor targets. There isn’t a local outstanding secondary academy to be ‘brought under the wing of’ and there aren’t any ‘successful academy chains’ at primary level.

        It’s very notable that Gove completely side-stepped the reality of parents not wishing their children’s school – or any other school for that matter – to be forced to convert in this speech. Unless he was including parents and cares in his category of ‘enemies of promise’ and ‘happy with failure’ ? This would be an unusual argument, and I suspect one that didn’t hold up to much scrutiny.

  4. I thought heads and the governing body already had to run a delegated budget? So they might have some more things to run directly if they move to academy status, but this is an incremental step rather than a plunge in to new territory.

    Any services or goods that come through the LA they can continue to take, or they can choose different ones if they think they will be better.

    • Tracy Hannigan says:

      They can already do that, Ben. Many primaries are asking ‘why take the giant leap’ when the person who is in ‘charge’ of the programme changes his mind every five minutes? It is a vulnerable position to plonk oneself into.

  5. Adrian Elliott says:

    I am a governor of one primary school and a member of the IEB of another.
    The first is outstanding and the second has made rapid progress with signifcant support from the excellent LA.

    In neither case is there any interest amongst anyone responsible for the success of the school,governors,heads, staff or parents for conversion to an academy and yet I have met nobody in either school -one in York, the other in North Yorkshire -who could be remotely described as a left-wing ideologue. I intend to write to my MP about this speech .

    After 44 years in education, at the age of 68, I am spending a lot of time, unpaid, to help a new generation only to be deeply insulted by a man who for years has been paid huge sums by the criminal Murdoch clan . I’ve had enough.

    • Adrian – I think you sum up exactly why this is such a tactical error on Gove’s part. He is insulting the very people he needs to make his policies work.

  6. Toby – re your comment above implying that Francis was applying the “soft despotism of low expectations” to teachers. The question is not whether teachers are able to run budgets and so on but whether they are willing to do so. And it is not just running the budget – it is taking on all those administrative and legal burdens currently done by the LA: pay, tax and pension administration; insurance; technical support and financial/legal burdens; preparation of accounts; payment of rents and rates and so on.

    Teachers are primarily teachers – that’s what they want to do. A secondary school may be sufficiently large to employ a bursar but small primaries do not. Even if they buy in this expertise as you suggest, they are still ultimately responsible for these extra burdens. This is an extra headache that schools can do without.

    No-one expects hospital consultants to spend time preparing accounts, studying the small print of the cleaning contract, or finding a cheaper supplier for syringes. They expect to get on with the job for which they were trained and which they want to do. The same is true of teachers. And if a head teacher (sorry, Principal) would rather spend his/her time doing admin work than providing education, then that person is not fit to be in charge of a school.

  7. Toby – re your point about weak schools being partnered by stronger ones. As I pointed out on the other thread discussing Mr Gove’s speech, only 18 of the 1194 converter academies are sponsoring other academies – and two of those started doing so when Ed Balls was Secretary of State. So it appears that “outstanding” converters aren’t particularly willing to help other schools.

  8. Toby – You mentioned primary schools that fail to reach floor targets, these being the ones Mr Gove has singled out for enforced conversion. Research by the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) found that there are “many well-run and effective” below-floor schools. A small improvement would raise performance of many of the below-floor schools to above floor standards. EEF found that around one third of the primary schools were within 5 percentage points of the floor standard.

    Yet many of these schools would be among those highlighted by Mr Gove for enforced conversion. In some cases this will be against the wishes of the parents. This Government has said it wants decisions to be made locally – but its actions go against such local decision making. It’s a case of Gove knows best.

  9. Listen to these secondary heads talking about their academy status and the explain why in principle and practice this can’t apply to small primary schools:

    I am genuinely interested in the reasons.

  10. Each person in these seems to be repeating what Michael Gove promised Academy status would deliver without discussing the wider issues of these forces which militate against healthy freedom in education. Interestingly the first head is an head of an old style academy so he genuinely would have gained new freedoms through that change. I’d be interested to hear the detailed justifications for the others as to what they have been able to do with their academy status that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do.

    Here in Cockermouth the secondary school was told to vote for Academy status or lose a substantial chunk of its budget. It took the latter option because, during detailed scrutiny and consultation it was found Academy status would not deliver useful freedoms and that the LA structure was the best structure for education across the county.

    I find the government propaganda machine disturbingly shocking. There are many unexplained things going on in cyberspace which are clearly defending Gove’s agenda. One of these is that when I have posted on the Cockermouth consultation and decision before, my post has been followed by a poster claiming to be a parent who “helpfully explains that the reason Cockermouth voted against academy status was that the Head was incompetent and had been no confidenced by his staff”. Now this is categorically and obscenely untrue and I find it sickening that free speech is being prevented with such intervention by people who clearly couldn’t care less for the reputation of the head accused! On other forums people who can intelligently argue against Gove’s agenda are simply banned. My thanks again to those who are running this forum where free speech does seem to be operating. Spot how differently the discussion read!

    In the main, Ben, heads of small primaries have no interest in becoming academies because they understand that academy status won’t give them the freedoms Gove says it will. They want the freedom of having an intelligent national curriculum which understands the quality of what goes on in good mixed yeargroup teaching. They want Ofsted reformed so that it will properly engage with what they do instead of judging them against criteria designed for schools which do not have mixed yeargroup teaching. They want more intelligent assessment and an end to high stakes narrow assessment which militates against high quality teaching. They know Gove doesn’t care about this because he shut down the new curriculum they had put so much effort into.

    But most of all they just want the freedom to be able to teach. They don’t want to organise all the stuff the LA currently administrates.

    • Thanks Rebecca

      “Here in Cockermouth the secondary school was told to vote for Academy status or lose a substantial chunk of its budget. ” Who told them to do this?

      “They don’t want to organise all the stuff the LA currently administrates.”
      I really don’t understand why this should be so difficult. A primary could turn into an academy and just agree to continue to receive and pay for all the LA goods and services. They could write their own contract to bundle all that up if necessary without too much trouble. There is the granted hassle of the conversion but once it’s out of the way life can just go on as before.

      The goonery of Ofsted is another issue and I agree small mixed years are a special case.

      • What would be the benefit of converting into an academy and continuing to receive and pay for all the LA goods and services?

        • List of cynical reasons for an LSN supporter

          1 Head and governors get to decide if LA goods and services are any good

          2 Can change curriculum and teaching methods to suit themselves, even giving the bird to Gove, and have a ‘contingency’ for when OFSTED turn up

          3 Get brownie points from central government even if they hate the policy

          4 Get to act as professionals

      • It just was the reality Ben. Because Cockermouth is a full school it loses out in the LA redistribution of cash and so stands to gain by becoming an academy in a way which would have offset its budget cuts. This article indicated the sum invovled was £300,000 per year:

        I think perhaps you don’t know much about the infrastructure behind small schools Ben. Sadly I don’t know enough to comment in detail but if you’re interested I could perhaps put you in touch with some excellent heads of small schools who could explain things in more detail. There are quite a lot here in Cumbria. You won’t find so many in urban areas of course.

        • Rebecca, here is an extract from that Times and Star article about some of the Cumbria secondary shools becoming academies;

          “A statement from William Howard School said that the principal reasons for seeking conversion are:

          the freedom to design the curriculum around the needs of the learner;

          the freedom to build effective partnerships;

          the freedom to decide how to spend the budget;

          the freedom to procure services which will ensure both quality and value; and

          the freedom to innovate which will ensure William Howard School staff are at the forefront of developments in education.

          Lorrayne Hughes, head of the Brampton secondary school, added that governors believe securing academy status will ensure the school is “best placed to deliver high quality education for all”.

          Trinity and Caldew hope to pair up in some situations to improve education for children. They have said they may become the first links in a “chain” of local schools seeking to work more closely together in future as reforms continue to radically change the educational landscape under the coalition government’s reign.”

          Now perhaps these things don’t apply to all the small rural primaries but can somebody please explain what and why?

          • Thanks, Ben, for publishing an example of the misleading waffle given out by schools wishing to convert to academy status. Four of the five reasons given for conversion can take place without the need to convert. All schools have the “freedom to design the curriculum around the needs of the learner”. They already have the “freedom to build effective partnerships” if they so wish. They can already decide how to spend the budget that is allocated after a small portion (c12-15%) has been deducted to pay for the back office functions shouldered by the LA. All schools have “the freedom to innovate”.

            The only “advantage”, then, is for schools to take control of that 12-15% of the budget used to pay for services which the academy will still have to provide. However, as I’ve said before, the academy has to take on onerous legal/administrative burdens in return for this exta money. The academy may well make savings by shopping around – but this takes time and is not a one-off task. And the savings may be at the expense of quality. Or the savings may be made by making staff redundant as is happening at Salford Oasis Academy.


          • Interestingly all those claims were explored in detail during the consultation regarding Academy status for Cockermouth and it was found that there would be no significant change to the freedoms currently experienced given current circumstances.

            The head expressed no opinion during the consultations – he simply tried to help convey information.

            These finding were surprising as many had believed all these improvements were genuine as heads have been repeatedly told they are and it has been so widely spun that they are in the media.

            So my answer to your questions would be that these freedoms are not true for most schools Ben. But a lot of people believe they are or believed they were for a while because there was so much spin.

            Small rural primary heads are usually ludicrously intelligent people used to thinking things out for themselves. You have to be to teach classes with several age-groups in well.

  11. Ben, you’ve completely contradicted yourself with your first point. The process of ‘deciding if LA goods and services are any good’ and taking action if they’re not is time-consuming, administrative heavy and would take teachers away from the actual job of teaching.

    I actually don’t understand what your other 3 points mean.

    • Marigold I would agree that shopping around is sometimes a bind but other schools have done it. Teachers don’t have to do it, admin staff and even governors can handle most of this and still the leave final decisions to others if that’s decided.

      As Toby Young says are we to believe that a group of professionally qualified graduates can’t organise a party in a brewery? They have to have a “party in a brewery authority” to do it for them? All other professions like lawyers, surveyors, doctors (well GPs anyway), engineers, physios etc. even TRADES PEOPLE like hairdressers and garage mechanics aspire to organise in structures where THEY organise and control as much as possible!

      • You’re talking gibberish again Ben. Difficult to know where to begin to reply to such confused thoughts which, taken together, manage to reveal a poor grasp of fundamental reason. Do people really still say TRADES PEOPLE? Is all this a remnant from, and testamen to, your grammar school education?

        • It’s in my Oxford concise dictionary dated 1993 but as TRADESPEOPLE. But the point I was making is that teachers, who are supposed to be more generally intellectually and socially capable than people like hairdressers and mechanics, and who are also indeed held accountable to more stringent standards, should have the PROFESSIONAL capacity to do these things like deciding whether or not to buy insurance or paperclips or ask a local authority to do it for them.

          I would rather write in italic than CAPS but I don’t think it is possible here.

          • Ben – the question is not whether teachers are capable of doing this administrative and legal work. Rather it is whether they should do. Teachers are trained to teach – that’s what most of them want to do. And just to give you a flavour of the responsibilities that Academies have to shoulder, follow the link to the Academies financial handbook and the DfE to discover the red tape surrounding accounts (which are, of course, only one part of the responsibilities that academies have):



            Schools should be free to educate children, just as hospital consultants are free to concentrate on their patients and don’t have to take on accounting and legal responsibilites. Mr Gove says how much the Government has reduced central “prescription for all schools to give heads and teachers the space to focus on what really matters.” But this reduction has been replaced by imposition in the case of academies.

            And Ben, when I was a teacher I was allowed to buy the paperclips. I was given a budget to cover the cost of stationery, books, IT consumables and so on. All subject heads had this responsibility. What I would not expect to have done, or expected the senior teachers to do, was spend time shopping around for the best insurance deal or worrying whether the detailed annual accounts satisfied the Companies Acts and the Charities’ Statement of Recommended Practice, whether the “outturn statement on form GAG3 would be submitted by 30 September (just a couple of weeks after the start of term), and whether “revised budget monitoring forms (GAG1, 2, 2A and 3)” match the forms that were used last year.

      • Most other primary schools haven’t chosen to become academies, Ben.

  12. Janet, the teachers don’t have to personally perform all these actions, they can delegate to people like admin staff. I don’t understand why they would not want the authority and power to decide these things, like other professionals. I suppose this is a key question, are teachers professionals?

    As an example show me an accountant who wants to hand over performance of part of their business to a local authority along with a fair chunk of their cash.

    I’m sure certain services like county music can be done well by LAs but why can’t teachers in schools make a judgement about that?

  13. Ben – while it is true that classroom teachers will not have to perform these tasks, the senior management teams can’t ignore these responsibilities. As the DfE guidance says (among other things):

    “Academies are charitable trusts and companies limited by guarantee and are required to submit audited annual financial statements to Companies House. The form of the financial statements is set by the Companies Acts and the Charities’ Statement of Recommended Practice. Academies report in most cases to a 31 August academic year end. As central government bodies, Academies are also required to complete by May 2011 an annual Whole of Government Accounts return for the financial year to 31 March 2011. The YPLA is putting in place a requirement for Academies to submit by September a three year financial plan for the academic years 2011/14.”

    Are you really saying that senior management teams will be happy to delegate three-year plans and the like to administrators? In any case, an academy principal must be one of the trustees and has no choice but to take on this burden. I would rather the principal’s first thoughts were with the delivery of education not the bureaucracy surrounding academy status.

    Of course teachers are professionals, Ben. But being a professional in any job means being free to do that job – in the case of teachers this job is teaching.

    Your comparison with accountants is nonsensical. Accountants are professionals employed to do accounts. It is ridiculous to suggest that accountants would hand over part of their core work to a third-party. Teachers do not hand over teaching to the LA. They expect the LA to take over legal/administrative tasks which leaves schools free to concentrate on what they are supposed to do – educate children.

  14. I predict that all small primaries that are independent academies or become them in the near future will be part of a chain in a few years’ time; it’s either that or die off. Most secondaries will be too I think. Maybe paying governors might be away around it; governance of an independent academy is a huge job and entails many more responsibilities than governance of an LA school.

  15. I entirely agree with the framework of this article. The notion is always ‘anti-bureaucracy’, when in fact for the reasons you give, it creates a disproportionate amount of bureaucracy. Prior to when ILEA was abolished, Lambeth had a small team dealing with all schools budgets across the borough. Now not only does it have to have a substantial finance department, but every school has to have additional administrators. This was the same for other professional services such as ICT, teacher induction etc. Now we can see it repeated – but even less efficiently

  16. Janet

    I have only quoted the reasons given by a school itself for its conversion to an academy. As far as they are concerned this is not waffle. If you think 12 – 15% is a small portion of a budget then I disagree.

    Perhaps this is the real undisclosed reason. Maybe the LA central costs and services are rotten and we still don’t really know this, but some heads think so. This is only a guess though.

    • Ben – of course the school doesn’t want to appear to be giving parents misleading waffle but it knows very well, as does every school converting, that they already have the advantages which allegedly come only with conversion. The only “advantage” is to take control of the 12-15% BUT as I’ve also said this is to purchase services previously provided by the LA. Mr Gove has made it clear that schools shouldn’t benefit financially from conversion, but see my post below which shows that some schools have done so. Hence the rush to convert before this extra money dries up as it inevitably will.

      Sorry, Ben, but guessing won’t do. If you have evidence that “LA central costs and services are rotten” then provide it. Remember that the majority of schools are not academies – if LA support was a poor as you suggest then it would be likely that all schools would be rushing to convert. As it is, many schools, particularly small ones, prefer to stay with the LA. They should be allowed to do so and not be made to feel that they have to.

      • Why is it not okay for me to make an obvious provisional statement, a guess, about LA costs, but okay for you to make an absolute statement about the reasons reported by the William Howard School for converting to an academy as waffle?

        If you have evidence that William Howard School is speaking waffle then provide it.

        • Ben – I think Rebecca (above 7/01/12, 1.35) has answered the question about the “waffle”. She was talking about Cockermouth but the answer applies to any school who cites extra “freedoms” as reasons for conversion. She said “it was found that there would be no significant change to the freedoms currently experienced given current circumstances.” This was despite all the media and DfE propaganda about the extra autonomy that academies enjoy.

          My comment wasn’t a guess or a “provisional statement”. It was backed up by evidence, not least from the OECD which found that in 2009 UK schools enjoyed more autonomy over curriculum, resource allocation and assessment than most other OECD countries. Yet Mr Gove would have us believe otherwise, and schools that want to convert mislead parents about the supposed benefits.

      • Here is a very good example of the dangers when schools take on complex procurement responsibilities for which they haven’t got the management or legal support. The schools in this story appear to have been scammed in the course of taking on contracts for ICT and photocopying equipment. Reading between the lines it appears that they didn’t study the small print closely enough but these sort of contractual negotiations often require the sort of skilled business managers and legal advice that many small primary schools simply wouldn’t be able to afford on their own. Expect many more stories like this in years to come especially as the private sector is targetting schools quite aggressively to provide these sorts of services.

        • The DfE’s answer to schools who have been scammed is that they “need to be absolutely sure of what they sign up to and read the small print because it is usually very difficult to legally challenge or break these type of contracts”. The DfE absolved itself of any responsibility by saying that there was plenty of advice available for schools to access.

          It’s like telling inexperienced mariners who’ve been encouraged to take to the ocean that they should have been more careful when the sails are full of holes and the ‘free’ radio won’t work because the contract (which wasn’t explained) has run out. And there was no need to worry about the icebergs – your ship’s unsinkable.

          Note to DfE: the prime responsibility of school heads and governing bodies is to oversee the provision of education not to pore over the small print in dozens of contracts. That’s what LA solicitors are for.

        • There are rather too many legal cases in America where entire states as well as individual schools, who handed over financial and legal management of their schools to charter chains, are locked in litigation with the charter companies that for all intents and purposes now own them.

          What seemed an attractive proposition – hand over management to an education chain with the skill and infrastructure to cope with it – can easily turn into a legal nightmare when it is the board of governors and management team who are subsequently castigated for the poor performance of a Charter/Academy School as a result of education companies putting profits before the care and education of children. Not all Charters are predatory; neither are all education companies in Britain but there are enough in the US – and there will be enough of them here – to cause serious concern.

        • We’re back to the “teachers are incapable of managing school budgets” argument, aren’t we? See above for my response.

          • I can’t find your response I am afraid but in my experience teachers don’t run school budgets. Most schools above a certain size will almost certainly have a business manager doing that with the head teacher. The problem for small primaries is that they can’t afford that sort of expertise. In fact judging by the story in today’s FT, which states that in the last 18 months the DFE has had to spend over £10 million bailing out academies that can’t manage their own budgets, it would appear that this problem is more widespread than we originally thought.

  17. Regarding article on the Cockermouth school;


    it would be an interesting exercise to cost estimate the services they receive and compare that to the £400,000 to £500,000 reported as potentially available if becoming an academy.

    For example what is the value of insurance? SEN support? LA procured goods?

    If we can find a significant disrepancy then we can perhaps ask if that is fair, we would perhaps need to know more about the redistribution of funds across Cumbria from the LA.

    I suspect thought that the LA is top heavy since that is my experience of how they tend to use money, based on my experience which was in social care.

    If anybody can help put some figures together please post some suggestions.

    • Ben – instead of asking someone else to put some figures together, why don’t you take on this task?

      It’s important to remember that the amount of money that is “potentially available” is, according to the DfE, only supposed to cover the cost of the services provided by the LA. If the money that an academy receives is more than this – and some of the early converters did receive more money – then there is a financial incentive to convert – something that the DfE has always denied.

      • Janet I am looking for suggestions like

        x number of SEN staff

        x per head per year for food


        There may be a “realisable subsidy” if there is significant discrepancy ibetween the LA costs and what a school can achieve, which is something I am interested in

    • Substantial research was done Ben so if you contact the business development manager at Cockermouth school you may be able to get the precise date you’re looking for.

      Rural counties are usually ‘top heavy’ compared with dense metropolitan areas because of the higher costs of running education in geographically dispersed areas. There are much higher costs associated with pupil transport, supporting small schools and the logistics of running cpd and other aspects of the infrastructure.

  18. The Government has always said that it is up to individual school governing bodies to decide whether to convert. However, the Government’s makes it obvious that it wishes all schools to convert. It hypes up the “advantages” but doesn’t say that schools already have considerable autonomy.

    So, if schools are theoretically allowed to make up their own minds about conversion, they should be allowed to do just that. Unfortunately, the headlong rush by large secondaries to convert in the hope that they would get more money is leaving smaller schools vulnerable (so much for co-operation between schools). The latter may have been content to keep the support of their LA but if the LA shrinks so does its ability to support fully the schools that remain under its control.

    Small primaries may feel they have no option but to convert. But being small they will have insufficient finances to purchase the support once provided by the LA. They will have no option but to join a chain. In Lincolnshire, for example, the LA has recommended that all its schools opt-out, preferably under the control of the CfBT Trust.

    Russell Hobby, general secretary the NAHT,echoed the evidence of John Burn, OBE, to the Education Select Committee about the unaccountability of academy chains:

    “Generally, I don’t think large chains of schools will be a positive force,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with a group of schools with a clear identity working together, but as these things grow to dozens or hundreds of schools, you are recreating local authorities but without the accountability.”

  19. One of the benefits of becoming an academy is that the school in question is no longer legally bound by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document, thereby enabling it to reward good teachers and get rid of bad teachers more easily. This is almost never mentioned by head teachers as a reason for becoming an academy since few want to admit they’re saddled with poor performing teachers, but it’s often an important reason. It’s also the (usually unstated) reason why the teaching unions are opposed to academies (and free schools, which enjoy the same latitude).

    • Its tempting to think it would be better to have separate queues for each counter at a post office as it’s satisfying when you make more rapid progress than you would and this compensates for the times when you make slower progress.

      But in reality being in the slow queue is very annoying and getting to the front before the old gentleman who’s clearly struggling to stand and the mum with the screaming children who’s clearly running late is not particularly satisfying.

      In reality pay incentives are only needed to help people make the transition from their previous lives to being a teacher. After a while they just settle in to teacher pay. So for maths teachers the most efficient and effective way of attracting them to the profession is to offer them transition payments, subsidies for conversion courses and so on – and then job satisfaction.

      Responsibility payments and R&R payments have been used extensively to help address short term staffing issues. Good heads don’t have significant problems getting rid of failing staff. It takes a while because during the process most problems are constructively resolved.

      There is absolutely no need whatseover for schools to become academies in order to recruit staff in shortage areas or get rid of failing staff.

      Everyone I know is opposed to heads being able to sack staff without due process because to allow them greater freedoms than they already had allows them to get rid of of staff because they don’t like them. It is important that teachers have some protection against bullying headteachers Toby.

    • What a strange opinion. Could you provide some evidence?

      Using this logic, you could say that the 1000’s of community primaries which don’t want to become academies don’t because they’ve got excellent teachers. Do you agree with this?

    • Howard says:

      Unfortunately the evidence to date seems to show that academies aren’t using their freedom over pay and conditions to reward their teaching staff, but to pay management more instead. See paragraph 3.9 of the National Audit Office’s report “The Academies Programme” (September 2010) – “Academies have more flexibility than maintained schools to set pay and conditions, and can offer additional incentives to attract and retain staff. Although our survey found that 79 per cent of academies pay their teaching staff according to nationally agreed pay scales, there is a significant differential between senior salaries in the maintained sector and those reported in the accounts of academy trusts. On average, in 2007-08 and 2008-09 there were 50 per cent more senior leaders per school earning over £80,000 in the academies sector than in maintained secondary schools.”

      • A problem with academies is that we can’t actually scrutinise their budgets as the DFE doesn’t make them available in the way that maintained schools budgets are now published. It is therefore hard to see how they are actually spending their money or managing staff. The budgets of schools in academy chains are even more obscure. The chains are no longer required to file annual returns to the charity commission, even though they are still apparently charities, and even when they were it was impossible to see how much money each individual school was spending and on what. However it was possible to see that the chains siphon off a significant percentage for themselves, in much the same way that local authorities are condemned for doing. In the case of some chains, these funds are used to pay exorbitant salaries to the chain’s management.

  20. Really? Would you like to advance some evidence that a big impetus for schools to become an Academy is because they wish to get rid of poorly performing teachers? Odd how unstated reasons are given here as facts by Toby Young. This is, of course, just another version of the central government line that education reform can only come about if parents and schools are given “choice” and if the pesky unions were once more crushed as Thatcher did the last time the Tories were here dismantling the state.

    It would be good if The Hon Toby Young and our nation’s incompetent education leaders recognized that teachers are not solely responsible for student test scores. Other influences matter, including the students’ effort, the family’s encouragement, the effects of popular culture, and the influence of poverty. Gove wants to demonise and fire teachers because we can’t fire poverty. Since we can’t fire poverty, we can’t fire students, and we can’t fire families, all that is left is to fire teachers.

    This strategy of closing schools and firing the teachers is mean and punitive. And it is ultimately pointless. It solves no problem. It opens up a host of new problems. It satisfies the urge to purge. But it does nothing at all for our children.

  21. Toby – you are correct. Academies are not bound by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions which means that a teacher of, say, English, in Academy A may be doing exactly the same job as a teacher with exactly the same experience in Academy B, but may be paid less. In any case, existing staff in a converting school have their pay and conditions protected by the TUPE regulations.

    Opting out of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions also means that academies can offer “no hours” contracts to new entrants. This requires staff to be on site whenever senior management decides. Teaching, despite what the media say about short hours and long holidays, requires teachers to put in a considerable amount of time outside school hours on marking, preparation, report writing and so on. Yet the trend is towards getting teachers to be in school for longer. This will not help recruitment, retention or morale of teachers.

    Opting-out of Teachers’ Pay and Conditions also allows academies to offer perks, such as free private health care to staff. Parents in schools which offer such a perk are entitled to wonder whether the money could not be better spent on their children’s education.

    And it does not follow that if someone is opposed to academy conversion that they are happy to see bad teachers retained in school. If a head teacher knows he has a bad teacher in the school it is no defence to say that Teachers’ Pay and Conditions prevents the teacher’s removal.

    • Guest says:


      We all agree about not retaining bad teachers is not a good idea. So why are no bad teachers ever sacked?
      Do you realise that most of the academies created by under Lanour immediately got rid of 30% of staff. Why did the existing school not get rid of these teachers? Was this reason the failing school could not improve?
      You correctly state that most academies that took over failing schoolsade massive improvements that the previous school was unable to achieve. Was this due to getting rid of the dead wood ? Or was it because of much better vision and work ethos?

      It should be noted that there is no problem attracting talented young people into teaching with all courses massively oversubscribed, the issue is moving on poor teachers from their comfortable positions and jobs for life.

  22. Guest – you say that “there is no problem attracting talented young people into teaching with all courses massively oversubscribed.” Please provide the link to this evidence. At the start of last year applications had slumped:

    • Guest says:


      Thanks for providing the evidence for me. Your second link includes the statement that there were 58000 applicants for 23700 places last year.

      • Guest – I think you need to re-read the article in full:

        The figures you quote were in a statement given by a TDA [Training and Development Agency for Schools] spokeswoman which said, “Last year, overall, there were more than enough applicants to fill places. There were 58,000 applicants to the GTTR [graduate teacher training register], of whom 23,700 were accepted. This equates to 2.44 applicants per accepted place.”

        The TES article was published in January 2011 and was discussing the drop in applicants for the education year starting September 2011. The TDA spokeswoman referred to “Last year”, ie the education year beginning September 2010.

        The article made it quite clear that the number of applicants for secondary school places had plummeted – in some subjects up to 40%, although applications for primary school had risen. Nevertheless, the overall figure (primary and secondary) was down by 2%.

        • Guest says:


          So even with these drops all courses are oversubscribed as I stated, with there being more than 2 applicants per place. QED

          • Guest – at the time the article was written, the DfE had not announced the number of training places available.

            “Andy Jones, dean of the Institute of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, said the drop in secondary applicants was also caused by uncertainty over teacher training. The number of places was due to be announced in September but a decision has yet to be made by the Government.”

            It is, therefore, difficult to say with certainty whether the courses would have been “massively” oversubscribed if the number of places was not known.

            In May 2011, the TES reported an even greater fall in the number of applications:
            “The latest statistics from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry, obtained by The TES, show a 13 per cent decline in the numbers applying to train as secondary school teachers. In January, when figures showed secondary applications were down by 9.3 per cent, experts warned that the Government was “sleepwalking into a crisis”.”


            It appeared, then, that in May there were insufficient “talented young people” coming forward for teacher training starting in September 2011.

          • Guest –

            Are you just obtuse or are you actually insane?

            Assuming these figures to be correct (and let’s face it, unlike your good self, Janet Downs can be relied upon to offer evidence, links and reports), would a rational person deem 2 applicants per place “Massively oversubscribed”. So, no. Not QED at all. Just more assumptions and prejudice on your part.

          • Guest says:


            You call me obtuse, insane and prejudiced because I think 58000 applicants for 23700 places is massively oversubscribed.
            Again I think this says more about you than anyone else. When you have lost the argument revert to insults.

          • Well I’ll amend that then. You are either stupid or insane. You’ve asserted that 2 applicants per place is “massively oversubscribed”, so how would you assess 100 applicants per place ?!!? And you have the nerve to claim I have lost the argument when you fail to even to make a rational comment, never mind backing it up with any evidence that is not supported by the fantasies fogging up your brain? I think your ignorant assumptions are an insult to reason quite frankly

  23. Leonard James says:

    Apologies for the poor SPAG I am still getting used to posting from a smart phone…

  24. The Financial Times article (9 Jan 2012), headlined “Fears for academies as eight need rescuing”, to which Fiona refers above, quoted the chief executive of the finance firm that investigated the figures. He said that schools take local authority expertise for granted – when they cut themselves off from LA support then they find that they are having to take on tasks for which they are unprepared.

  25. Good piece by Nick Gibb in today’s Standard about the need to convert Haringey’s under-performing primaries to academies:

    • I’m sure even you know what is really going on in Haringey and so can only assume that you post something like this in your role as government voxpock to try and hide the real agenda from the public?

      When are you publishing your Funding Agreement?

    • What this piece of dishonesty re-hashed here by the not so Honourable Toby Young does not reveal is that pupils in Haringey are in receipt of £1,500 LESS per pupil than children in neighbouring Islington or Hackney. What Michael Gove hasn’t told us either is that in his own constituency, something like 16 schools are failing so why he has chosen not to bully them but Haringey? If a school is underperforming, what it needs is investment, support and resources. Instead, if they are not an Academy, they get even more funds truncated away from them, hitting the most vulnerable when they are weakest, so that something like £15m can be handed over to a polemicist to fund a vanity project which chimes with Gove’s agenda to privatise state schools and further his personal ideology.

      Toby Young seems intellectually incapable of grasping the fact changing the structure of a school does not guarantee improvement. Where is the proof that Academies = good; community schools = bad. Does Young really think that we are as stupid as he likes to portray himself?

      This is not a “good piece”, Toby, A “good piece” would be your publishing your Funding Agreement. You might like to link it as a new Spectator piece and “draw a line under it”. You might even be brave enough to allow people to comment under it.

      • Tracy Hannigan says:

        He doesn’t ‘transform’ them with his ‘powers’ because they are Tory perhaps? It is an interesting case – why this few schools as opposed to many others? Even Ofsted’s head has essentially said that the type of school doesn’t equate to excellence. (Watch that space, wonder if Ofsted will lose its head!)

    • Good in what way? The main thing it does is expose the funding disparity whereby Haringey schools are funded as outer London, but have to pay their teachers inner London wages and get compared to schools receiving about £600,000 more than them.

      If Gibb and Gove are offering Haringey schools pots of cash then, yes please. But they’re not. They’re offering Haringey schools the opportunity to have lots of cash made out of them by private companies. No, thanks.

    • Shame he didn’t mention the 28 primary schools below the government’s floor targets in Michael Gove’s constituency. The Secretary of State seems oddly blind to them. However it was good that he referenced other London boroughs like Camden where nearly every primary school is good or outstanding and none has academy status which rather undermines his central argument that you need to be “independent” to improve.

  26. Toby – Thanks for the link. Mr Gibb didn’t mention the 40 academies that failed to achieve 32% GCSE pass rate (5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English) in 2010. This shows that academy status isn’t the magic bullet Mr Gibb and Mr Gove say it is. And the school with the worst GCSE results in 2010 which is still open (the two school with worse results have since closed) is Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate. But to be fair to Marlowe it’s really a secondary modern, and it’s Contextual Value Added score was at least 10 points higher than the two neighbouring grammar schools. This suggests that Marlowe’s poor showing is more to do with its intake than the teaching on offer.

    It is supposed to be up to Governing Bodies whether their school converts to academy status. And this Government makes a great thing about localism – local people making decisions. But when it comes to those schools the Government regards as “failing” then suddenly this doesn’t matter. It reminds me of Squealer in Animal Farm:

    “No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

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