The madness of small primary schools becoming academies

Francis Gilbert's picture
Gove's vituperative speech today attacking anyone who dares to question his academies policy has genuinely surprised me and highlighted for many people like me, who are not ideologically opposed to the academies programme per se, that there are some very serious flaws in the policy. I could speculate that his speech is actually a warning shot at people on his own side who are becoming deeply concerned that "academisation" is simply not the right thing for many schools. In particular, I've spoken to a number of supporters of his policies in general, who are very worried about the consequences of small primary schools becoming academies. They, like many other experts, are flummoxed about how these schools will survive as entirely independent entities. While larger secondary schools have the economies of scale to become academies, it simply makes no sense for small primaries to be responsible for things like the maintaining of the fabric of their buildings, the payroll, the intricacies of the budget and the thousand other things schools have to attend to. The only realistic option for them is to join a private chain; as yet, there aren't enough of them around though to meet the potential demand. The truth of the matter is that the small rural primary school needs a local authority to "look after it" in the way that Adrian Elliot spoke so eloquently about at the Wellington Festival last year.

The academy programme may well be popular with many secondary schools but they can, by and large, cope; but can small primary schools? Furthermore, this suggests that small free schools, which are effectively academies, without any private company may well be in trouble too. Gove's speech addressed none of these issues; instead he went entirely on the offensive, characterising anyone who is skeptical about elements of the programme as dogmatic ideologues who couldn't give a monkeys for poor students.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 11:16

Ben - instead of asking someone else to put some figures together, why don't you take on this task?

It's important to remember that the amount of money that is "potentially available" is, according to the DfE, only supposed to cover the cost of the services provided by the LA. If the money that an academy receives is more than this - and some of the early converters did receive more money - then there is a financial incentive to convert - something that the DfE has always denied.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 15:20

Substantial research was done Ben so if you contact the business development manager at Cockermouth school you may be able to get the precise date you're looking for.

Rural counties are usually 'top heavy' compared with dense metropolitan areas because of the higher costs of running education in geographically dispersed areas. There are much higher costs associated with pupil transport, supporting small schools and the logistics of running cpd and other aspects of the infrastructure.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 11:22

Janet I am looking for suggestions like

x number of SEN staff

x per head per year for food


There may be a "realisable subsidy" if there is significant discrepancy ibetween the LA costs and what a school can achieve, which is something I am interested in

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 11:03

The Government has always said that it is up to individual school governing bodies to decide whether to convert. However, the Government's makes it obvious that it wishes all schools to convert. It hypes up the "advantages" but doesn't say that schools already have considerable autonomy.

So, if schools are theoretically allowed to make up their own minds about conversion, they should be allowed to do just that. Unfortunately, the headlong rush by large secondaries to convert in the hope that they would get more money is leaving smaller schools vulnerable (so much for co-operation between schools). The latter may have been content to keep the support of their LA but if the LA shrinks so does its ability to support fully the schools that remain under its control.

Small primaries may feel they have no option but to convert. But being small they will have insufficient finances to purchase the support once provided by the LA. They will have no option but to join a chain. In Lincolnshire, for example, the LA has recommended that all its schools opt-out, preferably under the control of the CfBT Trust.

Russell Hobby, general secretary the NAHT,echoed the evidence of John Burn, OBE, to the Education Select Committee about the unaccountability of academy chains:

“Generally, I don’t think large chains of schools will be a positive force,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with a group of schools with a clear identity working together, but as these things grow to dozens or hundreds of schools, you are recreating local authorities but without the accountability.”

Toby Young's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 14:47

One of the benefits of becoming an academy is that the school in question is no longer legally bound by the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document, thereby enabling it to reward good teachers and get rid of bad teachers more easily. This is almost never mentioned by head teachers as a reason for becoming an academy since few want to admit they're saddled with poor performing teachers, but it's often an important reason. It's also the (usually unstated) reason why the teaching unions are opposed to academies (and free schools, which enjoy the same latitude).

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 15:30

Its tempting to think it would be better to have separate queues for each counter at a post office as it's satisfying when you make more rapid progress than you would and this compensates for the times when you make slower progress.

But in reality being in the slow queue is very annoying and getting to the front before the old gentleman who's clearly struggling to stand and the mum with the screaming children who's clearly running late is not particularly satisfying.

In reality pay incentives are only needed to help people make the transition from their previous lives to being a teacher. After a while they just settle in to teacher pay. So for maths teachers the most efficient and effective way of attracting them to the profession is to offer them transition payments, subsidies for conversion courses and so on - and then job satisfaction.

Responsibility payments and R&R payments have been used extensively to help address short term staffing issues. Good heads don't have significant problems getting rid of failing staff. It takes a while because during the process most problems are constructively resolved.

There is absolutely no need whatseover for schools to become academies in order to recruit staff in shortage areas or get rid of failing staff.

Everyone I know is opposed to heads being able to sack staff without due process because to allow them greater freedoms than they already had allows them to get rid of of staff because they don't like them. It is important that teachers have some protection against bullying headteachers Toby.

Marigold Doyle's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 16:29

What a strange opinion. Could you provide some evidence?

Using this logic, you could say that the 1000's of community primaries which don't want to become academies don't because they've got excellent teachers. Do you agree with this?

Howard's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 18:06

Unfortunately the evidence to date seems to show that academies aren't using their freedom over pay and conditions to reward their teaching staff, but to pay management more instead. See paragraph 3.9 of the National Audit Office's report "The Academies Programme" (September 2010) - "Academies have more flexibility than maintained schools to set pay and conditions, and can offer additional incentives to attract and retain staff. Although our survey found that 79 per cent of academies pay their teaching staff according to nationally agreed pay scales, there is a significant differential between senior salaries in the maintained sector and those reported in the accounts of academy trusts. On average, in 2007-08 and 2008-09 there were 50 per cent more senior leaders per school earning over £80,000 in the academies sector than in maintained secondary schools."

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 12:50

A problem with academies is that we can't actually scrutinise their budgets as the DFE doesn't make them available in the way that maintained schools budgets are now published. It is therefore hard to see how they are actually spending their money or managing staff. The budgets of schools in academy chains are even more obscure. The chains are no longer required to file annual returns to the charity commission, even though they are still apparently charities, and even when they were it was impossible to see how much money each individual school was spending and on what. However it was possible to see that the chains siphon off a significant percentage for themselves, in much the same way that local authorities are condemned for doing. In the case of some chains, these funds are used to pay exorbitant salaries to the chain's management.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 15:11

Really? Would you like to advance some evidence that a big impetus for schools to become an Academy is because they wish to get rid of poorly performing teachers? Odd how unstated reasons are given here as facts by Toby Young. This is, of course, just another version of the central government line that education reform can only come about if parents and schools are given "choice" and if the pesky unions were once more crushed as Thatcher did the last time the Tories were here dismantling the state.

It would be good if The Hon Toby Young and our nation's incompetent education leaders recognized that teachers are not solely responsible for student test scores. Other influences matter, including the students' effort, the family's encouragement, the effects of popular culture, and the influence of poverty. Gove wants to demonise and fire teachers because we can't fire poverty. Since we can't fire poverty, we can't fire students, and we can't fire families, all that is left is to fire teachers.

This strategy of closing schools and firing the teachers is mean and punitive. And it is ultimately pointless. It solves no problem. It opens up a host of new problems. It satisfies the urge to purge. But it does nothing at all for our children.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 15:11

Toby - you are correct. Academies are not bound by the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions which means that a teacher of, say, English, in Academy A may be doing exactly the same job as a teacher with exactly the same experience in Academy B, but may be paid less. In any case, existing staff in a converting school have their pay and conditions protected by the TUPE regulations.

Opting out of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions also means that academies can offer "no hours" contracts to new entrants. This requires staff to be on site whenever senior management decides. Teaching, despite what the media say about short hours and long holidays, requires teachers to put in a considerable amount of time outside school hours on marking, preparation, report writing and so on. Yet the trend is towards getting teachers to be in school for longer. This will not help recruitment, retention or morale of teachers.

Opting-out of Teachers' Pay and Conditions also allows academies to offer perks, such as free private health care to staff. Parents in schools which offer such a perk are entitled to wonder whether the money could not be better spent on their children's education.

And it does not follow that if someone is opposed to academy conversion that they are happy to see bad teachers retained in school. If a head teacher knows he has a bad teacher in the school it is no defence to say that Teachers' Pay and Conditions prevents the teacher's removal.

Guest's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 18:44


We all agree about not retaining bad teachers is not a good idea. So why are no bad teachers ever sacked?
Do you realise that most of the academies created by under Lanour immediately got rid of 30% of staff. Why did the existing school not get rid of these teachers? Was this reason the failing school could not improve?
You correctly state that most academies that took over failing schoolsade massive improvements that the previous school was unable to achieve. Was this due to getting rid of the dead wood ? Or was it because of much better vision and work ethos?

It should be noted that there is no problem attracting talented young people into teaching with all courses massively oversubscribed, the issue is moving on poor teachers from their comfortable positions and jobs for life.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 23:27

"Do you realise that most of the academies created by under Lanour immediately got rid of 30% of staff."

Having taught in one of these academies and known many others I don't think this is true. Please can you reference your sources for this information Guest?

Leonard James's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 21:35

An academy head told me personally that he bullied out any staff he didn't want - 'bbullied out being the key term here Guest - this is teacher, you'll never find a more wretched hive of bullshitters, two faced back stabbers and devious pole climbers - these scumbags don't need to sack.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 14/01/2012 - 18:13

You just surely Leonard - that would never happen in reality....

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 14/01/2012 - 22:53

jest not just!

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 08:55

Guest - you say that "there is no problem attracting talented young people into teaching with all courses massively oversubscribed." Please provide the link to this evidence. At the start of last year applications had slumped:

Guest's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 14:28


Thanks for providing the evidence for me. Your second link includes the statement that there were 58000 applicants for 23700 places last year.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 14:56

Guest - I think you need to re-read the article in full:

The figures you quote were in a statement given by a TDA [Training and Development Agency for Schools] spokeswoman which said, “Last year, overall, there were more than enough applicants to fill places. There were 58,000 applicants to the GTTR [graduate teacher training register], of whom 23,700 were accepted. This equates to 2.44 applicants per accepted place.”

The TES article was published in January 2011 and was discussing the drop in applicants for the education year starting September 2011. The TDA spokeswoman referred to "Last year", ie the education year beginning September 2010.

The article made it quite clear that the number of applicants for secondary school places had plummeted - in some subjects up to 40%, although applications for primary school had risen. Nevertheless, the overall figure (primary and secondary) was down by 2%.

Guest's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 15:03


So even with these drops all courses are oversubscribed as I stated, with there being more than 2 applicants per place. QED

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 15:45

Guest - at the time the article was written, the DfE had not announced the number of training places available.

"Andy Jones, dean of the Institute of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, said the drop in secondary applicants was also caused by uncertainty over teacher training. The number of places was due to be announced in September but a decision has yet to be made by the Government."

It is, therefore, difficult to say with certainty whether the courses would have been "massively" oversubscribed if the number of places was not known.

In May 2011, the TES reported an even greater fall in the number of applications:
"The latest statistics from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry, obtained by The TES, show a 13 per cent decline in the numbers applying to train as secondary school teachers. In January, when figures showed secondary applications were down by 9.3 per cent, experts warned that the Government was “sleepwalking into a crisis”."

It appeared, then, that in May there were insufficient "talented young people" coming forward for teacher training starting in September 2011.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 15:49

Guest -

Are you just obtuse or are you actually insane?

Assuming these figures to be correct (and let's face it, unlike your good self, Janet Downs can be relied upon to offer evidence, links and reports), would a rational person deem 2 applicants per place "Massively oversubscribed". So, no. Not QED at all. Just more assumptions and prejudice on your part.

Guest's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 18:41


You call me obtuse, insane and prejudiced because I think 58000 applicants for 23700 places is massively oversubscribed.
Again I think this says more about you than anyone else. When you have lost the argument revert to insults.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 23:17

Well I'll amend that then. You are either stupid or insane. You've asserted that 2 applicants per place is “massively oversubscribed", so how would you assess 100 applicants per place ?!!? And you have the nerve to claim I have lost the argument when you fail to even to make a rational comment, never mind backing it up with any evidence that is not supported by the fantasies fogging up your brain? I think your ignorant assumptions are an insult to reason quite frankly

Leonard James's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 21:37

Apologies for the poor SPAG I am still getting used to posting from a smart phone...

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 14:29

The Financial Times article (9 Jan 2012), headlined "Fears for academies as eight need rescuing", to which Fiona refers above, quoted the chief executive of the finance firm that investigated the figures. He said that schools take local authority expertise for granted - when they cut themselves off from LA support then they find that they are having to take on tasks for which they are unprepared.

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 23:52

And, yes, your funding agreement please, Toby.

Toby Young's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 17:23

Good piece by Nick Gibb in today's Standard about the need to convert Haringey's under-performing primaries to academies:

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 17:42

I'm sure even you know what is really going on in Haringey and so can only assume that you post something like this in your role as government voxpock to try and hide the real agenda from the public?

When are you publishing your Funding Agreement?

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 23:32

What this piece of dishonesty re-hashed here by the not so Honourable Toby Young does not reveal is that pupils in Haringey are in receipt of £1,500 LESS per pupil than children in neighbouring Islington or Hackney. What Michael Gove hasn't told us either is that in his own constituency, something like 16 schools are failing so why he has chosen not to bully them but Haringey? If a school is underperforming, what it needs is investment, support and resources. Instead, if they are not an Academy, they get even more funds truncated away from them, hitting the most vulnerable when they are weakest, so that something like £15m can be handed over to a polemicist to fund a vanity project which chimes with Gove's agenda to privatise state schools and further his personal ideology.

Toby Young seems intellectually incapable of grasping the fact changing the structure of a school does not guarantee improvement. Where is the proof that Academies = good; community schools = bad. Does Young really think that we are as stupid as he likes to portray himself?

This is not a "good piece", Toby, A "good piece" would be your publishing your Funding Agreement. You might like to link it as a new Spectator piece and "draw a line under it". You might even be brave enough to allow people to comment under it.

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 23:51

Good in what way? The main thing it does is expose the funding disparity whereby Haringey schools are funded as outer London, but have to pay their teachers inner London wages and get compared to schools receiving about £600,000 more than them.

If Gibb and Gove are offering Haringey schools pots of cash then, yes please. But they're not. They're offering Haringey schools the opportunity to have lots of cash made out of them by private companies. No, thanks.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 10/01/2012 - 07:59

Shame he didn't mention the 28 primary schools below the government's floor targets in Michael Gove's constituency. The Secretary of State seems oddly blind to them. However it was good that he referenced other London boroughs like Camden where nearly every primary school is good or outstanding and none has academy status which rather undermines his central argument that you need to be "independent" to improve.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sat, 14/01/2012 - 18:59

He doesn't 'transform' them with his 'powers' because they are Tory perhaps? It is an interesting case - why this few schools as opposed to many others? Even Ofsted's head has essentially said that the type of school doesn't equate to excellence. (Watch that space, wonder if Ofsted will lose its head!)

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 17:48

Toby - Thanks for the link. Mr Gibb didn't mention the 40 academies that failed to achieve 32% GCSE pass rate (5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English) in 2010. This shows that academy status isn't the magic bullet Mr Gibb and Mr Gove say it is. And the school with the worst GCSE results in 2010 which is still open (the two school with worse results have since closed) is Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate. But to be fair to Marlowe it's really a secondary modern, and it's Contextual Value Added score was at least 10 points higher than the two neighbouring grammar schools. This suggests that Marlowe's poor showing is more to do with its intake than the teaching on offer.

It is supposed to be up to Governing Bodies whether their school converts to academy status. And this Government makes a great thing about localism - local people making decisions. But when it comes to those schools the Government regards as "failing" then suddenly this doesn't matter. It reminds me of Squealer in Animal Farm:

“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.