The Annual Academies Report 2013/14
, the yearly eulogy for academies, has now been published. Percentages drop like petals in a gale; case studies appear in big boxes; and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan provides a fulsome foreword.
Unsurprisingly, there's no mention in the report about the two UTCs which will close, the four large academy chains – E-Act, AET, TKAT and Oasis –criticised by Ofsted and/or the Education Funding agency; or the fact that GCSE results in sponsored academies are no better than similar non-academies when equivalent exams are removed. Academies are all wonderful and local authority maintained schools are inferior by implication.
Perhaps it’s time the Government published a report similarly highlighting the achievements of the much-maligned ‘council-run’ schools. This is a start:
Giving schools the freedom to innovate
In its 2014 report
into how academies used their extra autonomy (which isn’t much more than non-academies enjoy), the DfE linked innovation which curriculum change. But it’s not necessary to be an academy to have a good curriculum as these Ofsted reports for non-academies published last week show:
Walton-le-Dale, St Leonards CoE Primary School
, Lancashire: ‘The curriculum is good and includes many exciting events for pupils to enjoy.’ ‘ Classrooms are stimulating places in which to learn.’
Merdon Junior School
, Hampshire: ‘A productive partnership has been established with parents.’ ‘An interesting curriculum is enriched by a wide range of clubs and visits.’
St Bartholemew’s Catholic Primary
, Merseyside: ‘Pupils enjoy an exciting curriculum, which gives them many opportunities to be creative. High-quality singing heard during the inspection was clearly very much enjoyed by all those participating. Pupils have recently worked on a wonderful mosaic, which tells the story of the values which underpin the school’s work and demonstrates their creative talents to the full.’
There’s no doubt I would find similar positive comments in academy Ofsted reports. But the DfE is being disingenuous when it implies exciting curricula are only found in academies.
More opportunities for collaboration
Again, it’s not necessary to be an academy or in an academy chain in order to collaborate. It could be argued that being in an academy chain restricts collaboration to within the chain. But that’s not the case in Peterborough where non-academies, academies (converter and sponsored) have collaborated to address the difficulties posed by an influx of pupils with little English. As Stuart Jackson MP said in his eloquent request
for more funding to be provided for LAs tackling such problems:
‘Thirty-eight schools have received on-site training and/or consultancy, with a focus on school-based training. West Town Primary Academy, Fulbridge Academy, Gladstone Primary, Longthorpe Primary, the Beeches Primary, Thorpe Primary, Highlees Primary Academy, and Ken Stimpson Community School in Werrington, have all led the way as hub pathfinders and exemplar institutions
This is an excellent example of collaboration which transcends school type. It appears mean-spirited of the Government to suggest collaboration only exists in academies.
Greater control of budgets
All schools in England have a great control over how to spend their budgets. This has been the case since Local Management of Schools was introduced over 25 years ago. Academies have a little more freedom to spend that small part of the budget previously retained by local authorities for services LAs provided. But with academy status come extra administrative and legal responsibilities. And external auditing of academy accounts doesn’t always discover when public money has been spent irresponsibly.
Freedoms around delivery of the curriculum
As we saw above, it’s not necessary to be an academy to decide how to deliver the curriculum.
Ministers should not have a favoured school structure. By exaggerating the achievements of academies, something the Education Select Committee warned it not to do, it appears the Government views non-academies, which are still the overwhelming type of school in England, with disdain.
Yet within both types of school: academies and non-academies, there is good and outstanding practice. But also within both types of school: academies and non-academies, there is poor practice. A Government really concerned with improving schools would salute the former wherever it appeared. And it would encourage improvement in the latter by recognising that local support is more effective and cheaper than academy conversion.
And it would not demean the work being done in good non-academies by implying good work only happens in academies.