Recently some people have been labelling the Local Schools Network as "anti-academy". One example is the otherwise excellent Observer piece
last weekend, which talked about me being from "the anti-academies campaign group Local Schools Network
". This prompted one of our regular visitors, Rebecca Hansen, to ask
if we ran an anti-academies site somewhere else. "I thought they only had this one – where the kind of free debate about policy which is prevented on other major education discussion forums is allowed?
Indeed one of the four founders of the Local Schools Network wrote a post last year in favour of his local school converting to an academy. This site was founded to promote good local schools, schools that are genuinely comprehensive, that have fair and open admissions and work to serve the community. And the truth is that many of these schools are now academies. They still have hard-working and dedicated staff, who don't get the recognition they deserve, and students doing their best whatever their circumstances. And there are still local education authorities working, in this newly complex setup, to ensure the best education provision for all their young people.
The educational landscape has changed and, for many, the local comprehensive school is an academy. This could work if admissions are fair, if the schools work in co-operation to serve the community and are accountable to the local authority. This is more or less the model in place in my local borough, Hackney. It has plenty of academies but the admissions are carried out centrally, based on fair banding. All the schools work with the local authority, which actively intervenes to ensure the highest expectations. All schools co-operate on issues like exclusions, at the same time as competing to provide the best education.
What we are against is the imposition of academies on communities around the country, and the promotion of the idea of schools acting independently and selfishly in their own interest and without any accountability to the local community or the local authority. We would also like to see the DfE acting as the Department for Education, for all schools, and not as the Department for Free School and Academies. With thousands of academies across the country some will be successful and some will not, as with all schools. But who will support and challenge the less successful ones? Who will hold them to account and help them to get back on track?
There are many aspects of the changes that are deeply worrying to anybody interested in a fair and equitable educational system, responsible to local people. One of these is the growth of the chains, first publicised by LSN co-founder Fiona Millar. Although these are currently charities, this doesn't stop them paying huge salaries to those who run them (£280.000 in one case) or from setting up separate educational supply companies which can service these schools and make a profit. And, as this post
shows, there is no evidence of good performance from most of the chains.
The other danger is privatisation. It is likely that in 2015 there will be hundreds of academies below the new floor targets in 2015 (the floor will then be 50% of students achieving 5 A-Cs including English and Maths and not including most of the equivalent qualifications). What will happen to these? They clearly won't go back to the local authority. Perhaps they will be handed over to the chains or, and this is the real worry, perhaps by that point they will be privatised.
There is clear interest in privatised schools on the right. Already there has been a conference, run by the Conservative think tank Policy Exchange, on privatisation in education. Toby Young has recently written that "most Conservatives I know are frustrated that Michael Gove isn't doing enough to privatise English education".
It is unclear whether privatisation is part of the government's agenda and it may be that privatisation is not possible while the Tories remain in coalition.
However that could all change if the Tories were to win a clear majority at the next election. Whether or not it is their current intention, by then there will be a fragmented school system with thousands of separate schools acting independently. It will make it easy, if they wanted to, for a government to move to privatise those schools.