Halted academy chains: high attainers did badly in one while for-profit Swedish import Kunskapsskolan Requires Improvement or worse

Janet Downs's picture
South Nottingham College Academy Trust

This small trust was established by Central College Nottingham, a further education college which acts as sponsor to two academies: South Nottinghamshire College Academy and Top Valley Academy.

Ofsted judged South Nottinghamshire Academy to be good in May 2013. Inspectors noted the close relationship between sponsor and academy. There were “effective arrangements” for communications between the two which tracked achievement and attendance. Ofsted also noted the “productive relationship with the local authority” which provided external evaluation.

The 2013 GCSE cohort at South Nottinghamshire Academy was heavily skewed to the top end with 53% previously high-attaining pupils, 40% previously middle-attainers and 6% previously low-attaining ones. However, only 47% of this cohort achieved the benchmark*.

Top Valley Academy became an academy in September 2012 and has not yet been inspected. Its predecessor school, Top Valley School and Engineering College, was judged Satisfactory in 2011. The 2013 GCSE cohort was slightly skewed to the bottom of the ability range: 45% of this cohort reached the benchmark. 57% had reached the benchmark* in 2012 when the GCSE cohort was broadly comprehensive .

Care should be taken when judging schools according to their results alone. They need to be checked against intake. But such low results at South Nottinghamshire Academy with its high proportion of previously high-attaining pupils are a cause for concern. Only 68% of the previously high-attaining pupils achieved the benchmark*. The national average for such pupils is 94.7%.

The Learning Schools Trust

The Learning Schools Trust operates four academies on behalf of for-profit Swedish firm, Kunskapsskolan. Ofsted judged two of them to Require Improvement and a third, Ipswich Academy, which had been officially opened by Michael Gove in November 2013, was judged Inadequate the previous July. A fourth academy, Elizabeth Woodville Schools, has not yet been inspected.

Kunskapsskolan schools all use “KED pedagogies” – Ofsted was not particularly impressed.

In 2008, when Kunskapsskolan announced its interest in English schools, it said:

“The ambition is for 30 academies as well as a handful of profit-generating independent schools in England over the next 10 years.”

Peje Emilsson, chair of Kunskapsskolan, spoke to the US-based, libertarian think-tank, the Cato Institute, in 2011. He told the audience his firm could increase test results at a 20% cheaper cost. In the UK, he said, he had told his “Conservative friends” he could do it even more cheaply. Emilsson, according to the Cato Institute, believes a “competitive for-profit market” which has proved so successful when selling “cell phones and coffee shops” could be a “mechanism for replicating what works”.

It doesn’t appear to have done so in the three Kunskapsskolan academies inspected so far.

*The benchmark for Y11 pupils is 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English.

Notes: Pre-warning letters to academies can be downloaded here. Ofsted reports can be downloaded here.

ADDENDUM 23 March 2014. The headline has been changed. It was originally "Halted academy chains: here are two more."
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Beth J's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 06:18

The problem with some academy chains is that they see their 'customer' as the politicians, rather than the people who are actually dependent on their product - the parents. To continue the 'business speak', they simply don't do their local market research. They impose a product on the end user, and if the end user has any say in the matter (some do, some don't - the affluent/savvy can move house, go private, or get religion) they vote with their feet and opt for an alternative instead.

The DfE is right to halt the expansion of unpopular and unsuccessful chains. They should look to see what is popular with parents. Labour's backing of parent-proposed academies is a positive step. Many free schools are already in-line with that model, and while there have been some spectacular failures, there will be some spectacular successes too. When parents and communities strongly believe in their local schools, that is when they thrive.

Beth J's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 08:08

Just to add ... implicit in my comment above is the sad fact that Local Authorities don't always understand what parents want either. That is why many have consistently failed to deliver popular schools, or improve unpopular ones. So, while I agree that LAs should have input into parent proposed academies, it should be in the form of facilitation and advice rather than "direction".

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 09:38

Beth - and it's further confused because popularity isn't necessarily a sign of giving a good education. For example, we're told that Discovery New School, Al-Madinah and IES Breckland were popular free schools wanted by parents. But all three were Inadequate.

The best LAs provide support for their schools - this even extends to offering support to academies although they're not legally obliged to do so. But if the offer is rejected then the LA can do little except to alert the DfE.

LAs have a legal responsibility to manage school place supply. At the same time there's a "presumption" that all new schools will be academies or free schools. LAs have no say whether a free school, parent-led or otherwise, opens in their area. The National Audit Office found over 80% of secondary free schools had been opened in areas where there was already a surplus. This could threaten the viability of existing schools.

Beth J's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 09:55

Janet, I agree that the education provided needs to be high quality, and that factor must override popularity.

However, often the surplus of places in existing schools is due to the fact they are not popular. They are not providing families with what they want. Good schools attract families like magnets. In areas of high density population, such as London, it is only the non-good schools that are under-subscribed.

Unfortunately the NAO report you refer to did not report on what portion of the surplus places were "good+" places as opposed to "requires improvement or worse" places.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 13:06

Beth - the "surplus" referred to a surplus of places in an area resulting from there being not enough children to fill the places available. A small amount of surplus is necessary to allow for flexibility and choice but over a certain proportion it becomes uneconomic to keep places open.

Local Authorities are legally obliged to manage school place supply as I said - they are not allowed to have a surplus over a certain proportion. Unfortunately, government reforms make this job increasingly difficult if not impossible. LAs cannot shut academies or free schools so if an area had too many places for the number of children then the axe would have to fall on an LA school even if it were oversubscribed and good or better.

The opposite is also true - LAs faced with the need for extra places can't open their own schools because of the "presumption" new provision will be academies or free schools. And plans can be thrown into disarray if, as happened in Lincolnshire last year, an academy chain decides arbitrarily to close one of its secondary academies.

Beth J's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 20:04

Janet, as I said, good schools attract families like magnets. However, not-good schools repel them like magnets. If there is a surplus of places, that might be because there aren't enough children in the area to fill the schools, or it might be that the children have moved away from the area (or gone private/to church) to avoid the schools.

Given the generally crowded nature of the UK, surely you acknowledge that the latter might be happening in some areas? It certainly happens in parts of London where there is anything but "not enough children".

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 22:28

The academies/free schools (and the 'roses' by many other names) programme is a disaster waiting to unfold, as your catalogue of exposures confirms, Janet. Education is not a commodity, something to be enjoyed only by those with the power of choice. It is vital public service. The group that relies on its success more than any of the others is the pupils and young people themselves.

In any 'free market' we create, for they are certainly created, there are always winners and losers. Is this really what education should be creating? If so, then which citizens deserve to be left out? Also, which deserve to sit on top of the pile and why (because they can afford to move away from 'not-good' schools)? Whose responsibility is it to ensure the system works and is equitable?

As difficult as these questions are to even articulate, it is the responsibility of any decent society to face them honestly. What the last several decades should have taught us is that ordinary citizens cannot leave this important work to a 'free market' any more than we can have confidence that our politicians are capable of performing the task.

Beth J's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 06:12

John, nice ideal. You clearly believe strongly in your LA, and that is good. I agree that the academy/free school programme will bring, and has already brought, some disasters. However ,,,

1. In some areas, the LA provision for education is a catastrophe that has long since unfolded, and been allowed to rot, and ..

2. In other areas, the LA is so propped up by vested interests that the concerns of ordinary local parents are a long way down the list of priorities.

In both of those situations, the academy/free school programme can provide a catalyst for change. That is why it is popular with many people.

Standing back from this whole debate I see many commentators selectively highlighting problems with academies, and others selectively highlighting problems with LA run schools.

Both have their issues, and there needs to be a middle ground.

I'm glad that Labour has left open the door to Parent Proposed Academies (aka Free Schools without some common sense thrown in) in their education policy, because that may well be the answer.

We'll just have to wait and see.

Beth J's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 06:13

Typo Correction: That should have read "Free schools WITH some common sense thrown in"

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 07:10

Beth - "gone to church" schools are local authority maintained unless they are academies.

The National Audit Office found there was still a national surplus of primary school places. However, it recognised there were hotspots such as London where there is a pressing need for more places. This has to be managed - LAs are legally obliged to do it but find this increasingly difficult as I have said.

But I wasn't talking about the hotspots. I was talking about the 81% of secondary free schools which have been opened in areas already with surpluses. This money would have been better spent supplying places where they were needed.

Beth J's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 11:38

Janet they may be LA maintained, but they are certainly not under LA control when it comes to the planning of school places because Voluntary Aided schools are their own Admissions Authorities. That is why in hotspot areas such as Richmond, where high performing schools act like a super-magnet to young couples planning families, many people are finding themselves excluded from their local schools (see http://www.richmondinclusiveschools.org.uk/files/view/press-cuttings/201...).

Progressive LAs such as Camden are taking strategic action to ensure the same doesn't happen in their areas (see para 5.4 http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/documents/s29596/Admissions%20Updates%202...).

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 15:14

Beth J - you're right that Voluntary Aided schools are their own admission authorities. Voluntary Controlled faith schools, however, stick to the admission critieria of their local authorities.

The Schools Admission Code allows faith schools which are their own admission authorities (VA, Foundation schools and academies) to prioritise according to faith. Unfortunately, many such schools go beyond what is allowed to give priority to those whose parents do church-related activities such as housekeeping which aren't required by faith. I satirised this here.

That said, LAs have no power over academies to ask academies to take more children if demand for places increases. So LA maintained schools have to take more than their fair share of the increased demand. But if all schools in an area become academies, then LAs will find it impossible to plan for a growth in demand though they're legally obliged to do so.

Beth J's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 18:27

Janet, do you have any evidence that Academies are refusing to expand in response to requests from Local Authorities? I would have thought that the prospect of reasonable expansion would be seen positively by most schools.

There's no reason why academies can't work in partnership with their local authority, whether the LA has "power" over them or not.

John Mountford's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 22:44

Beth J, I feel the need to put the record straight. I worked as a teacher and headteacher under four different LEA's over thirty years and I can safely say that I never believed in any of them particularly as guardians of local interest to any extent. My experience, from Labour controlled LEAs in South Wales to 'true blue' authorities like Buckinghamshire, convinced me that their impact on the quality of local services was always variable and sometimes abysmal.

As at the national level, I question the motivation and ethics of local politicians. In both cases, examples of ideology overriding reason abound, resulting in poor decision-making, a loss of confidence in their leadership and an unwillingness to accept that the way we did things in the past in education is not likely to work for the future.

I find the present preoccupation with the structure of education a distraction from the really important issues. What is education for? If it is just about our economic performance on the global stage in future, it will produce far too many losers. If we can reach a consensus about the aims of education, we can them proceed to construct a curriculum fit for our young people in an uncertain future. From this platform, we can set clear priorities for reform of the service over time, preferably free from the meddling of politicians in governance both locally and nationally.

At present, too many young people face an uncertain future and are ill-prepared by the system to adapt. We can choose to move the chairs around on deck or we can turn the ship around. It doesn't matter what schools are called. It does matter that they are fit for purpose and such a destination does not fit with the present short-term 'solutions', tied as they are to the chance outcome of successive general and local elections.

Sorry for the rant!

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 05:46

Well, good luck with that John.

In the meantime, children still need to be educated, and in the absence of any kind of high level consensus on how that should be done, it is up to parents and teachers to do whatever they can for their children and communities. In some cases, the free school programme has enabled them to make significant progress on that, and a proportion of schools created in those circumstances will be highly successful. Time will tell how big the proportion is.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 08:00

Beth J - reply to 6.27 24/3/14 (no reply button) re academies refusing to expand. You asked for evidence:

"In areas where the demand for places is rising sharply, particularly at primary, there is some evidence that academies are using their freedom to choose not to expand or community schools are looking to academy status as a means of avoiding expansion in the future".

DfE report here

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 08:06

Beth - it's true that the majority of free schools inspected so far are good or better but the proportion is no different to the inspection judgements in non-free schools. And some free schools are helping to address a shortfall in places.

But many are not. I've said before, 81% of free secondary schools are in areas with surplus places. Not one of the secondaries inspected so far has been judged Outstanding although we were told that these plucky pioneers would act as shock troops (or was it storm troopers?) which would force all other schools to improve.

agov's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 08:08

"That is why in hotspot areas such as Richmond, where high performing schools act like a super-magnet to young couples planning families, many people are finding themselves excluded from their local schools "

Up to a point -


Richmond-u-Thames has generally had a good reputation for its schools. However, iirc, it also had a large percentage of parents opting for private school places but the recession made that too expensive for them so there was an influx of children to the state sector.

agov's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 08:09

and then there's this -


the comments are quite interesting

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 09:21

agov, you said "However, iirc, it also had a large percentage of parents opting for private school places"

Well that's where the narrative ties in with JD's original post and my original comment.

It's an unfortunate fact that in many cases Richmond families are switching to private (or church) school places at secondary level because they are trying to avoid their two local LST academies.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 09:29

Janet, ok, that's "some" evidence, but its not very strong, and there has been no attempt to assess the overall picture by assessing evidence that other academies are working in co-operative partnership with their LAs. That would need to be done before your claim that "LAs will find it impossible to plan" is proven.

Plus, exactly the same finger could be pointed at VA schools.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 09:58

Beth - Comprehensive schools benefit from an all-ability intake. This almost always means a socially mixed intake because ability at age 11 (not necessarily KS2 attainment) has strong socio-economic links. If parents are allowed to exercise significant choice in a market for schools driven by aggregate exam results then they will favour schools with posh parents and bright children, leaving other schools to take the less posh parents with less bright children. Those schools will have a harder (but not impossible) job of providing equally high levels of enabling provision for their pupils. All the perverse effects of markets then start to kick in resulting in degradation and corruption of the system as a whole, which is what we have now.

The best (only?) way to provide equitable access to high quality education for every child of every ability and social background is for the state through elected local government to ensure the right to a high quality local school for every child, managing admissions so to secure the most mixed intake possible in terms of ability.

Parents can be given preferences but in such systems the vast majority of parents are happy with their local schools which have effective mechanisms that address complaints underpinned by the Local Authority.

In such a system education is taken out of politics and out of controversy. Schools stay out of the news and teachers, parents and pupils get on with supporting each other.

This is how education works in countries like Finland where standards are consistently higher than in marketised systems like ours.

Bogstandard excellence is best.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 10:03

JD said: "Not one of the secondaries inspected so far has been judged Outstanding"

They're inspected in the latter half of their second year of opening, and in many cases they're in temporary accommodation. It's a pretty tall order for them to demonstrate the 2 clear years of outstanding progress that is required for an outstanding Ofsted rating! Give them more time Janet.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 10:07

Roger - I completely agree with all of your points.

However, in the absence of that perfect system, people are making the best of a bad job. The anger should be directed at the politicians, not the people who are trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Parent2's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 10:29

Some free schools are being proposed as an alternative to underperforming sponsored academies (which replaced underperforming schools), rather than LA maintained schools as in other areas. But I share the concern that they will still increase social segregation.

What is frustrating is that the underperforming sponsored academies cannot easily be taken over by a more effective sponsor, or revert back to the LA and get support in a different way. Academies run by different trusts are being set up to compete with each other for pupils in their area, rather than work together in partnership.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 10:41

Parent2, yes, I agree the time it potentially takes for under-performing trusts to be removed is damaging (for the children in the schools, and also for the wider community who are understandably reacting to the problem by not sending their children to the schools).

However, some academies can and do work in partnership with local parents, other local schools, and with their Local Authorities, to the benefit of their communities. That behaviour is (thankfully) not unique to maintained schools.

Brian's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 11:56

The two years of outstanding progress is no longer required by Ofsted. One year is enough.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 13:10

I am not angry with you Beth and agree that parents have to put their kids first and do the best they can. I also believe that there is a growing number of parents that are getting fed up and angry with our marketised unaccountable system.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 13:25

Beth J - see faq above "What problems do Local Authorities face when schools become academies according to 2012 report?". This formed the basis for the DfE report above but gives further info*'

The Academies Commission (2013) feared a population of "hard-to-place" children could emerge because LAs can't direct academies to accept pupils.

An example of a problem caused by academization was in Lincolnshire when one academy chain decided without consultation to close one of its academies. Lincs County Council realised belatedly this would make it impossible for them to plan school place supply. See here.

*the faq link to the report is broken - I will try and fix it asap.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 13:50

Beth J - I wasn't referring to "outstanding progress". As you say, it's too early especially as most free schools haven't entered pupils for exams yet. I was referring to Ofsted judgements. Some primary free schools have been judged Outstanding.

We were told free schools were going to smash through complacency and their mere existence would cause results in all other schools to rise. This was an incredibly stupid thing to say. Free schools as a group are not better or worse than any other group of schools.

I have no problem with free schools being established in areas where spaces are needed especially in the hotspots. But money is wasted when they are set up where they're not needed such as:


Route 39


Stour Valley

Becket Keys

The moth-balled, brand-new free school in an area which actually needed extra places but received insufficient applications.

The Local Government Association wants a ban on free schools being set up in areas with surplus places.

At the same time as free schools are opened in areas where spaces aren't needed, the DfE has just turned down a parent-led, council-approved proposal in London.

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 15:03

Beth J, it cannot be a matter of 'luck' that ALL children and young people find themselves attending a 'good' school. That is why I am critical of the current system of school reform, as put in place by the present government, building on the system begun by the previous one. I accept that changing this is an enormous undertaking but it has to happen and it will require persistence and time to generate a much needed consensus.

You are right about families focusing on practicalities in the absence of 'any kind of high level consensus on how (it - change) should be done'. Who wouldn't see the sense in that? My point is that if we fail to acknowledge that the present system is fundamentally flawed, we will go on lurching from one set of politically driven 'quick fixes' after another ever few years and in a decade from now we will be having the same conversation in relation to some other crisis, because there is a crisis.

We all agree that no parent actually wants less than the best that education can offer for their child. Not all families are in a position to choose a school they like for their child, especially if it should involve moving house. This is why local arrangements for ensuring there are sufficient places at all levels are so important, but that is just the first part of the equation. We don't just need sufficient places locally. We need high quality provision for all. This has to include youngsters with special needs and others who are often hard to place.

The impact of the structural changes to local schooling (academies, free schools etc) is by its very nature hap-hazard! The columns of LSN are bulging with real examples of just how this works in practice. The main problem presently is that the government in power has created a situation where the expensive reforms it claimed would improve the lot of children has actually made things worst for far too many and allocated a huge amount of extra funding to see the situation over standards (when comparing like with like), statistically unchanged.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 15:34

JD said: "The Academies Commission (2013) feared a population of “hard-to-place” children could emerge because LAs can’t direct academies to accept pupils"

Then signing up to the local Fair Access Protocol should be a condition of academy status.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 15:40

JD said: "We were told free schools were going to smash through complacency and their mere existence would cause results in all other schools to rise"

That's obviously just political rhetoric. I'm not sure anyone really expected anything quite so dramatic.

Opponents of the policy use a lot of political rhetoric too.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 15:45

Is that a recent change Brian? I didn't know that.

Obviously there are a lot more primaries than there are secondaries, and we're only in the second year of inspections, with the 2012 openers being inspected at the moment, so there is still time for one of them to be declared outstanding (if that's what everyone is waiting for).

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 16:05

JD said "I wasn’t referring to “outstanding progress”. As you say, it’s too early especially as most free schools haven’t entered pupils for exams yet. I was referring to Ofsted judgements"

Janet, the new Ofsted framework requires pupils to be showing outstanding progress before an outstanding judgement can be given. Obviously a period of time is required to demonstrate that. I thought it was over 2 years, but Brian's comment above suggests it might have recently changed to 1 year.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 16:19

Beth J - Yes, it was political rhetoric but it's been repeated until it's accepted as truth by sections of the media and in press releases from the DfE. Political rhetoric in the form of deception has been going on since academies were first set up.

Again and again we're told about how free schools will transform education, how free schools are outperforming other schools, how free schools allow "innovation", how "outstanding" they're going to be (even to the extent of producing misleading marketing - see here and here).

Yes, some of the primaries have been judged Outstanding just as non-free school primaries have been. But not a single free secondary school - not even (especially not even) those secondary schools which were previously independent ones.

Meanwhile, another primary free school has been judged Inadequate.

Beth J's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 16:54

Janet, I don't like political rhetoric and exaggeration any more than you do. But there's quite a lot on the other side of the debate too, not least on this site.

Most parents have long since switched off from it all.

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 21:23

Beth J, you are quite correct about the degree of political rhetoric on LSN. It is intended to counter the propaganda put about by the present government in support of its education reforms. But, with respect, you are not right about any exaggeration on this site. The reason I claim this to be so is because exaggeration is a form of lying and the search here is for greater understanding of why education has to be deployed as a political toy by every party that comes into power.

Janet is correct in her assertion that "Political rhetoric in the form of deception has been going on since academies were first set up." I have no objection to changes to the way schools are structured or what they are called. I am only interested in how effective they can be in devising and delivering the most effective curriculum experience in a manner that meets the needs of pupils and our society now and in the future. The politicisation of education actually stands in the way of that goal, and I believe the billions we are currently spending on structural reforms are not about to bring us closer to achieving it.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 26/03/2014 - 08:03

Political rhetoric is the use of overblown phrases and oratorical flourishes designed to mislead and deceive.

Most stuff on this site is linked to evidence and, as John says, is written to counter political and media spin.

Parents may indeed have "switched off" but they perhaps won't be quite so laid back when they find money supposed to be spent on their children's education is finding its way into the pockets of shareholders behind the trusts that run academies; or that their school is filled with untrained, inexperienced teachers; or their children are being offered a narrowed curriculum (spun as "depth") instead of a rich one; or their children can't get into the local school because the admission criteria has been manipulated to increase the school's share of "desirable" pupils; or their children's wellbeing is being threatened by increasing emphasis on test results...

Beth J's picture
Wed, 26/03/2014 - 13:07

JD: "Most stuff on this site is linked to evidence"
Yes, but it is evidence that is sometimes selectively presented to back up a pre-determined position.

JD: "Parents may indeed have “switched off” but they perhaps won’t be quite so laid back when they find money supposed to be spent on their children’s education is finding its way into the pockets of shareholders behind the trusts that run academies"

If it gives the results they want, then many won't care, any more than they care about profit-making in private schools. If they don't get the results then they will care very much, in the same way that they care very much about the vast amounts of money LAs spend supporting schools that never seem to make the grade.

JD: "or that their school is filled with untrained, inexperienced teachers"
Many won't care so long as the teaching is good/outstanding. They will care if it isn't. Unfortunately QTS isn't a guarantee of quality, but it is a safety net, so I agree with you that academies should employ staff on the same terms as maintained schools. Many do anyway, and I think that should be acknowledged.

JD: "or their children are being offered a narrowed curriculum"
Yep - Agree the national curriculum should be mandatory for academies. Many academies are using it anyway, and I think that is something else that should be acknowledged.

JD: "or their children can’t get into the local school because the admission criteria has been manipulated to increase the school’s share of “desirable” pupils"
Yep - they will definitely care about that. Academies need to stick to the admissions code, and be seen to be behaving responsibly, or it will attract bad publicity. However, its something that many VA schools have been getting away with for a long time.

JD: "or their children’s wellbeing is being threatened by increasing emphasis on test results"
Yep, they won't like that either, if they recognise it as a problem. However many parents seem to thrive on it.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 26/03/2014 - 15:51


"If it gives the results they want, then many won’t care, any more than they care about profit-making in private schools. If they don’t get the results then they will care very much, in the same way that they care very much about the vast amounts of money LAs spend supporting schools that never seem to make the grade."

Where is your evidence for this breath-taking statement? The truth is that when like is compared with like, in terms of mean intake ability, and the 'equivalent scam' is discounted, in general, LA schools outperform Academies and Free Schools and always have. Academies and Free Schools have powers over admissions policies that LA schools do not have.

Some parents may not mind about the profits made in various ways by the companies that run Academy chains, but taxpayers certainly do. Or would if they could find out what is really going on.

LAs pay their staff including expert education support staff modest salaries, as do LA schools. Not so Academies and Academy chains that are stuffed with 'Executive' this that and the other posts on £110K plus salaries (while seeking to reduce the wage bill for teaching staff in any number of clever ways) not to mention the vast costs of the DfE Academies and Free Schools administration and support system itself. LAs are models of efficiency and parsimony in comparison.

Beth J's picture
Wed, 26/03/2014 - 16:08

Roger, I'm not saying that academies are better than maintained schools, and I'm not saying that maintained schools are better than academies. I'm saying that many parents don't care who runs their schools so long as they are performing well. I don't think there's anything breathtaking about that. It's based on observation of parents.

In some areas, academies have been a catalyst for change, in others they haven't. It is right to evaluate the programme as a whole, but by selectively highlighting the areas where the policy hasn't worked, and using that "evidence" to bash the programme as a whole, people risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

An objective analysis would also recognise the positives.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 26/03/2014 - 16:55

Beth - I agree that many parents have in the past not worried about who runs their schools. However I think that those that do worry about such things are a fast growing proportion, with good reason.

I don't think that overall, taking into account all the available evidence from various sources, it is possible to conclude that Academies have had a beneficial effect on the English school system and certainly not in terms of the vast cost to the taxpayer.

Academies have certainly been a catalyst for change where I live, and elsewhere in Cumbria.

When Labour came to power in 1997, Barrow-in-Furness had five 11-16 schools (one of which is RC) feeding a Sixth Form College plus one independent fee-paying school. All the state schools were popular, well regarded and not in trouble with Ofsted. Cumbria county council had in the early1990s spent many £millions on building improvements and providing extra school places as the town prospered. The quality of accommodation was excellent in all the schools.

In 2006 an Academy plan emerged, supported by both Labour and Conservatives on the county council that was fiercely resisted by local parents in which three of the schools would be closed and its pupils moved into a new sponsored Academy to be built on the playing fields of one of the 11-16 schools.

The Academy is now in Special Measures, as is the only surviving LA school, following having 'agreed' to take large numbers of pupils from the poorest part of the town that the new Academy couldn't/wouldn't admit. The RC school was also expanded as part of the plan and is now also in deep trouble with Ofsted. The Independent school, which was in financial difficulties, is to expand as a Free School. The Academy was beset with scandals, poor results and strife from its opening. The large sites of two of the former 11-16 schools are to be auctioned off with the expectation that the school buildings only recently enlarged and refurbished at huge taxpayer expense will be demolished with playing fields and other land used for housing. The third 11-16 school has a beautiful listed town centre main building and still stands empty having lost its pupils in 2009.

In the meantime Barrow has fallen on very hard times, possibly not unconnected with the destruction of its secondary education system that was working very well.

A very similar disaster has beset Carlisle.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 26/03/2014 - 17:19

Roger - were you aware than Kirkby Stephen Grammar School in Cumbria has been issued with a financial notice to improve by the Education Funding Agency at the end of February?

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