Collaboration is key to success, says OECD’s deputy education director, but has he been misled into believing academy programme will increase school autonomy?

Janet Downs's picture
Andreas Schleicher* (TES 8 March 2013) is correct - children benefit when schools collaborate and share best practice. This was the lesson of the London Challenge which, contrary to Gove's rhetoric, had little to do with sponsored academies and everything to do with support and co-operation.

However, Schleicher has been misled if he thinks the academies programme is required to bring about the autonomy that underpins improved performance. According to the OECD, in 2009 UK was one of only four countries which gave substantial freedom to schools to manage their own resources and decide which courses to offer. And the Academies Commission (2013) found that non-academies can already do most things that academies can do.

The academies programme is likely to result in less co-operation not more. TES discovered last year that only 3% of converter academies were supporting other schools. Does anyone really think that academy chains will co-operate with other chains when they are in competition? And many submissions to the Academies Commission feared a fragmentation of the education system with schools acting in their own interest.

It appears that Schleicher thinks the academies programme is a promising reform and one that other countries could study. But this might not be entirely the case as he has previously outlined potential risks.

Schleicher warns that autonomy is a double-edged sword. If there is no "common vision of schooling and a united school system" then autonomy can work against equity and fairness. The Academies Commission has already found that some academies are manipulating admissions in their favour. Schools that are happy to allow other schools to cope with low ability pupils, disadvantaged or hard-to-place children aren't likely to share their practice with other schools.

*Andreas Schleicher is deputy director for education and special adviser on education policy to the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Note: this is a referenced and extended version of the comment I left under the TES article.

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