"More than one-in-10 state secondary schools in England are now academies, outside of local authority control." (BBC)
"One school in 10 is now an academy": "More than one in 10 secondary [word missing from the headline] schools in England is now an academy," (The Guardian)
"Academy status for one-in-10 secondary schools" (The Daily Telegraph)
If these headlines had been about exam statistics or pupil attainment, they would have included "only" or "just". Encouraged by politicians and their spin doctors, the media always seem to concentrate on the minority not the majority. If you look at it the other way, nine out of ten secondary schools are not academies.
According to the DfE's figures, "371 secondary schools are now academies, 11% of all secondary schools in England." In other words, 89% of all secondary schools in England have not become academies.
Many media have obligingly followed the DfE's press notice, even including the positive head teachers' quotations helpfully provided by the Department. Yes, they have quoted some union leaders who oppose academies for balance, but what about some actual head teachers who have reservations about academy status or only agreed to it because of financial or political pressures? What about the views of parents?
According to the press notice, "The total number of academies now open is 407. This is made up of: 203 academies set up by the last Government; 204 academies set up by the Coalition." So only 204 since the current Government's drive for academies and that has been a struggle.
Recent attempts to accelerate the academies programme smacked of desperation. At first it was "outstanding schools" that could apply for academy status, then "struggling schools" could become "sponsored academies", then "good schools with outstanding features" were eligible to apply, followed by primaries and secondaries able to team up with a school classed as outstanding by Ofsted. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools Lord Hill even wrote to governors of outstanding schools in attempt to cajole them to take up academy status, followed by pleas to Church of England schools.
If academy status is so wonderful, why does the Government have to work so hard to sell the idea to schools?
"Greater freedom is said to be what is on offer, but freedom from what and freedom to do what? Freedom, it seems, from local authority 'guidance and interference' . Really? What is there left for local authorities to control, even if they were so minded? Delegated budgets are protected, so the only money retained is for support services for special needs, transport and such corporate provision as school music and library services and outdoor education centres. Are these what determine the character of a school? Or is it local authority responsibility for providing school places, and removing them, and for admissions which is really resented?
"And what do these headteachers wish to do with the greater freedom they advocate? Introduce their own, more flexible curriculum, it seems, and have a greater choice of examinations. How ironic that escape from the rigidities of a National Curriculum imposed by central government should have to be by abandoning the partnership with local government.
"And, of course, there is the attraction of more money that bit of the schools' budget retained by local authorities. But what happens then to the support services and those whose need for them is greatest?
"Or is it, despite assurances to the contrary, admissions that are the prize control over who can enter and remain in a school? Is it this that brings some heads and politicians together the right to decide who can be admitted and, by doing so, appease those who wish to keep out the 'wrong' kind of children?
"To whom will heads be accountable for these new freedoms? Governors? They are likely to be at one with the headteacher. Parents? Which parents? And to whom are governors and parents accountable? What if there are concerns in the communities these schools are meant to serve?
"Whatever the reasoning, the proposals do nothing to promote a fairer and more equal society. What they will lead to is an enhanced pecking order locally which will exacerbate social divisions and tensions. They are an encouragement to self-interest, status seeking and indifference to those less well-placed.
"But, as so often, there is a warning in history. In the days when schools were 'controlled' by LEAs, heads had, what seems in retrospect, a remarkable amount of freedom. They could determine what was taught, how it was taught and by whom it was taught. They could 'expel' pupils without facing elaborate appeals procedures and decide which examinations should be taken. In short, before 1988, they controlled the essential character of a school.
"And what happened? By the mid 1970s concerns about schools were such that they prompted the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, to question what was going on and whether this 'secret garden' should remain beyond public scrutiny and accountability. So, in time, we had the Education Reform Act and with it, not a clarification of LEA responsibilities, but all the apparatus and impositions of central government about which heads now complain.
"But, of course, headteachers and most politicians are too young to remember this a case, perhaps, for including a course on contemporary history for those aspiring to 'headship'."
While continuing to support its members wherever they work, Voice opposes the creation of any new academies and has numerous concerns about them, including:
- the "breakneck speed" with which the Government is rushing ahead in allowing more schools to become academies;
- the way they have been promoted as some sort of panacea to magically transform education Voice has said many times that changing the way schools are organised and governed is not a guarantee of success or better education, and the mixed results from the academies established so far supports this;
- the creation of two-tier education system which damages the ability of local authorities to deliver central support services to maintained schools Voice is particularly concerned about the long-term provision of support to pupils with special needs and emotional and behavioural problems and those excluded from school, and how school transport and psychology, cultural and sports services will be affected; and
- pay and conditions at academies: levels of pay and methods of progression are variable compared to the maintained sector, the working day is often longer, and teaching assistants and other support staff may be particularly badly affected by the loss or erosion of any system of national pay and conditions.
Voice believes that families should have access to a good-quality local education system that guarantees a good school for all, and that all schools should receive the levels of investment they need to deliver that quality education.