Not Anti Academies, but Pro Good Local Schools

Henry Stewart's picture
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.


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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 29/02/2012 - 11:36

Thanks for that, Henry. It's important that contributors know that LSN promotes and supports good, local schools whatever their type. This is so different to government propaganda that praises only academies and free schools as being the only possible types of good school - the DfE website even has a video entitled "Academies Work" - and Mr Cameron's pronouncement that free schools (all 24 of them at the time) are the shock troops that will "smash through complacency" in the 20,000 or so English state schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 29/02/2012 - 11:51

It should also be remembered that it is now a legal requirement for all new schools to be either free schools or academies. This forbids local authorities from establishing schools which they will then support. The only viable way for a local authority to meet a need for extra school places is to contact organisations willing to manage the school. This is what happened in Peterborough. The City knew it would need extra places in the future and asked organisations to bid to run a new secondary school. The for-profit Swedish firm, IES, which won the contract to manage Breckland free school, was one of the organisations contacted by Peterborough. The contract was eventually awarded to Greenwood Dale Education Trust.

Local authorities may also find they have to provide money for schools for which they have no responsibility. In Peterborough the Council is providing £36.6 million to rebuild Nene Park Academy and Stanground School (in the process of academy conversion). Building Schools for the Future funding had been agreed by this was cancelled by the Government in 2010.

The Education Act which allows new schools only to be provided by non-local authority groups; the interest already demonstrated by for-profit education providers; the support for profit-making schools given by Mr Gove (tipped by sections of the Murdoch press as being the next Prime Minister) and the policy documents published by right-wing think tanks all suggest that profit-making schools are a future reality however hard some commentators try to deny it.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Wed, 29/02/2012 - 14:07

Entirely agree with this. My view on academies is pragmatic. Many schools which I know, admire and in some cases have been closely involved with , have become or are likely to become academies. That does not change my view of those schools or those who work in them.

My concerns are three First,as Henry has so effectively shown the case for academies based on results has simply not been demonstrated. Secondly,the excellent work of many local authorities has been simply ignored by most commentators (including those on the Observer) The third issue is that of accountability on which I don't feel I need to say more.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 29/02/2012 - 17:58

Hansen not Hanson Henry! :-)

I spoke to a few Conservatives yesterday.

It seems to me that all the forums where education is discussed which allow free speech are expressing significant concerns about academies. Does anyone have any counter-examples?


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