Why wouldn't a primary school want to become an academy? asks Gibb

Janet Downs's picture
Tucked away at the back of this week’s TES is a short article written by Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools. It’s the same old stuff: academies benefit from increased autonomy, are free to innovate, tailor support, spend their budgets, change the length of the school day and so on. These claims had been made by Mr Gove at the Conservative conference - a Freedom of Information request revealed that most of these claims had no foundation. 

Mr Gibb says that “governments of all persuasions have sought to interfere too much in the day-to-day management of schools”. Well, he’s right there and it’s been going on since 1988 with the first National Curriculum. However, Mr Gibb gives some odd examples including prohibiting certain coloured pens for marking. Perhaps Mr Gibb could explain which piece of legislation made it illegal for teachers to wield a red pen. If such a clause is indeed included in an Act of Parliament, then I broke the law during my entire teaching career.

Despite constant interference by successive “we know best” governments, English schools still manage to have a large amount of freedom. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that in 2009 the UK was among four countries which allowed the greatest autonomy “…not only in allocating resources but also in making decisions about curricula and assessments.” So what extra autonomy is given to academies? First, academies have “freedom” to spend that small part of their budget retained by local authorities (LAs) to provide back-room services. Academies use this extra money to buy those same back-room services while having to shoulder the extra burden of the associated administration and legalities. Second, academies have the freedom to set teachers’ pay and conditions which has resulted in a modest increase in the average gross salary of teachers in academies but has also resulted in some academies requiring less-favourable contracts. And Mr Gove approves of taxpayers’ money being spent not on education but on providing private medical insurance for academy staff.

Mr Gibb writes that the OECD supports the Government’s reforms because it supports more autonomy for schools. But English schools already have this. He says that the OECD favours “rigorous and objective external accountability”. That is true. But what he doesn’t say is that the OECD warned there was an excessive emphasis on raw exam grades in England which could lead to grade inflation, teaching to the test, “gaming” and neglecting other important skills. This view has been endorsed by the Conservative chair of the education select committee who condemns league tables because they risk denying pupils a “rounded education”. He told the TES that “the accountability system they [the Coalition] have put in place virtually ensures that attention will be focused not on the lowest performing, but will instead divert attention away from them.”

Finally, Mr Gibb wrote that he wanted outstanding academies to partner schools in challenging circumstances. But Mr Gove admitted that only 18 of the 1194 converters are sponsoring other academies. So it appears that “outstanding” converters aren’t particularly willing to help other schools.

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Rosemary Mann's picture
Sun, 15/01/2012 - 14:31

As a governor I can probably add to that list- another key one is teachers and governors being distracted by having to handle the various things that local authorities normally do and the added skills that this requires of a governing body as well as the school staff. Many governors I know feel that this is a distraction from the main activity of providing an education.

This ability to vary schools hours strikes horror in me as a parent of three young children with regard to synchronising pick ups and drop offs. Do these people who promote this as a benefit have any idea of the impact that this has on most parents? There are enough variations amongst local schools in my area already- one school ends at 3pm the other at 3.30pm. This causes havoc when trying to find after school childminding arrangements. It probably helps with spreading out the traffic peak times but thats about all.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 15/01/2012 - 17:14

rosalyn - you're right about extending school hours and term times. When Mr Gove cited the recent research by Harvard into effective schools he spoke approvingly of pupils spending more days in school. However, what he didn't say is that the Harvard researchers said that 190 school days represented a lengthened time in school. English schools are already legally expected to offer education for 190 days minimum (unless the school is an academy - they have the power to vary the number of days). So when Mr Gove talks about longer terms he is recommending an even longer time in school than the New York maximum.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Mon, 16/01/2012 - 18:47

This is a really good point. When Rivendale was trying to get established in H&F to my knowledge they didn't tell people about what appears to have been a plan to have these extended hours. A local parent group found a document on line and discussed this point here: http://www.parentsallianceforcommunityschools.org/2012/01/09/rivendale-curriculum-organisation-draft/

Rosemary Mann's picture
Sun, 15/01/2012 - 14:34

The other thing I wanted to add is that many outstanding schools are already helping less successful schools extensively but this will be lost if there are more conversion academies as presumably there will be less in it for them and they will need to spend their time on their own priorities.

I see nothing in academy conversion for the school where I am governor and most other schools I know. I think it should be where sane people refuse to tread. So blatantly a politicial agenda.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/01/2012 - 21:09

There was a good debate about this on Woman's Hour this morning.
(starts about 24:40)

Did anyone feel the gentleman's description of a successful academisation of a secondary school under the labour model provides the justification this parent's concerns about her child's primary school being forced to become an academy under Gove's model against parental wishes.

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Mon, 16/01/2012 - 23:43

I listened to this and was perplexed. The parent who was concerned about her children's primary school being forced to convert with the parents and others being given no information or consulted with made complete sense. The parent singing the praises of a secondary school with a 'designer uniform' whose results have increased since becoming an academy (in 2010) made no sense. GCSE results don't just jump up in one year - the school was on an upward trajectory before it became an academy.
I was pleased that the first parent mentioned the ever changing Ofsted framework, though.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/01/2012 - 14:53

Marigold makes an important point – Ormiston Victory Academy was established in September 2010 when the pupils with the improved GCSE results were already half way through their GCSE courses. Improvements were already underway when Ofsted visited the pre-academy school, Costessey High, in November 2009 when the school was graded was satisfactory with good provision in the sixth form. Ofsted reported that GCSE standards had “risen substantially” in 2009 with almost 60% gaining 5+ GCSE grades A*-C (41% gaining 5+ GCSE A*-C including Maths and English). The latter score fell to 38% in 2010 according to a DfE graph although text on the same page says 41%.

The interviewee said that such things as work experience and visits to the local hospital were not available in “mainstream” state schools. The school at which I taught was offering these 25 years ago as part of the careers education programme.



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