Big Debate: Academy schools

Big Debate: Academy schools

Big Debate: Academy schools - Credit: Archant

This week Amanda Phillips, executive headteacher of Culloden and Sir William Burrough primary schools – both academies – and Alasdair Smith, National Secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, debate the pros and cons of the academy school system.

Amanda Phillips

Amanda Phillips - Credit: Archant

Amanda Phillips executive headteacher of Culloden and Sir William Burrough primary schools – both academies:

Alasdair Smith

Alasdair Smith - Credit: Archant

The evidence speaks for itself that school-to-school support, involving managers with a proven track record, is the best way to stimulate positive change in other schools.

Traditionally that has been always been the role of local authority officers, but quite simply they have failed to produce the required impact upon the most difficult schools.

People say the academy system doesn’t add anything, but just look at some of the larger academy groups, such as Harris and Ark, who have taken former failing schools and really transformed the fortunes of the pupils in those establishments.

Some may say a school loses it’s identity by converting to an academy but I don’t see how that can be the case.

Outstanding institutions like ours have the same staff together with the same pupils from the same families, and the school has stayed right where it has always been.

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Extra freedoms and autonomy come with academy status, but at our schools that’s something we had been exercising for some time anyway. Once you are delivering outstanding outcomes for pupils you are able to confidently make the right decisions about curriculum and where best to buy services. We have not been relying on local authority support and guidance for a long time, and leaders, together with their governing bodies, are now able to make much more independent and informed choices.

Of course the autonomy itself is not dangerous, any dangers that arise stem only from weak leadership and poor management but whatever system you’re operating in that will always prove problematic. Failing schools that are still local-authority maintained, either in Tower Hamlets, Newham or elsewhere, are not doing so as a result of too much freedom. Having less autonomy has not stopped many schools from delivering what they should. Strong leadership will always use extra freedoms and autonomy for the best reasons, but it is weak leadership that will increase the possibility of any mistakes being made.

Alasdair Smith, National Secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance:

The simple argument is that the acdemy-conversion scheme is an ideological, politically-driven programme that has nothing to do with school improvement. Secretary of State Michael Gove pretends that turning schools into academies makes them better, but everybody in education knows that is just not the case – some academies now fail just as community schools do. The government has spent billions on a political programme that no benefit to children whatsoever.

The long-term consequences of this is that we’ll see an education system more socially segregated than ever before, taking us back to the bad old days of grammar and secondary moderns.

Purely and simply it is not in society’s interest and one of the most backward education polices since the Second World War.

Of course, autonomy is good for teachers. They certainly should not be told exactly what to teach. But autonomy for institutions means they employ who they want, and there’s much less accountability in a system that is still using public money.

Schools fail for a number of reasons, but it’s always a human reason, not a structural issue. We know how to solve these problems and local authorities have been doing so for decades, but the politicians have seen failure as a chance for privatisation.

There are lots of community schools in Newham that are performing very well but nobody’s talking about them. It’s one of the poorest boroughs in the country but by and large the school system is doing very well and yet we’re continually being told that we need academies. But why if they’re doing well already? It’s not to benefit the people of Newham it’s to benefit the private companies. We should be celebrating the success of local schools, seeing what works, and then building on that, rather than imposing an external ideology.

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