Controversial freedoms, fragmentation and self-interest – just some concerns given to the Academies Commission

Janet Downs's picture
Note: the words in brackets are the author’s comments

The Academies Commission identified two controversial “freedoms” available to academies and free schools: the freedom to employ unqualified teachers and the freedom to be exempt from school food standards. The Commission found that academy heads were exercising caution fearing that any controversy would cause public debate.

Nevertheless, there had been a tendency for sponsored academies to employ teachers without qualified teacher status (QTS) going back to before 2008. PriceWaterhouseCooper 2008 found that sponsored academies employed more teachers without QTS – 12% - than LA schools - 5% - despite the fact that their funding agreements required ALL teachers to have QTS.

Changing the governance status of schools doesn’t guarantee that changes will have a substantial impact on what happens in the classroom, the Commission found. “Quasi-market reforms” are more likely to succeed in “creating innovations in marketing and management” than in changing classroom practices. (In other words, schools will shift resources from classroom into marketing – and the ASA has already had to intervene informally to get free schools and Academy Trusts to change misleading advertising).

Many submissions to the Commission feared a fragmentation of the education system with schools acting in their own interest. This would likely disadvantage already disadvantaged children. Other submissions contradicted this, saying that if academies used all their freedoms then it would lead to a more professional, “mature” education system “freed from dependency culture”. (But the Commission had already pointed out that most of these freedoms were available already to maintained schools. The extra money academies receive to purchase services previously supplied by LAs came with considerable responsibilities which many academy heads admitted took them away from their core purpose of providing education.)

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