Academies – seriously, Mr Gove?

So we have a new government, which means a new Minister for Education.  Whose headline policy is to do what the last government was doing, but more so and sooner.  What?

The policy in question is to give every state school that is deemed to be ‘outstanding’ the right to become an ‘academy’.  The idea goes that you give the school its normal funding from the state, but it can make lots more decisions for itself about how it runs, who it employs, how teaching and learning take place and so on.

Oh, and any school that’s in ‘special measures’ (read: not good enough) for a year will automatically be converted to an ‘academy’ too.

Wait, only the most rubbish schools will earn the same autonomy privileges as the best ones?  Really?

These ‘academies’ are schools that sit outside many of the rules the rest work by, but receive the same funding, unlike faith schools.  They don’t publish the same performance data, they have greater powers to exclude (expel) children (who then get turfed back to the state system, spot the problem), they have more flexibility to select their intake and their staff do not enjoy the same protection from regulations on pay and conditions that others enjoy.

Fine, if you wish to take a job in an academy, but rather worrying if your own success contributes to your school earning the right to opt out of the system and change their arrangements.

Now, academies can be a hotbed for innovation.  Two three-hour lessons a day, with teachers taking their classes to breakfast or lunch together, is how one nearby me works.  I don’t know if it works any better, but it’s certainly an interesting experiment.  Schools should be allowed to try different models to address the issues they face in their setting.  But they must surely still be held to the same standards as the rest, to know whether it is working.

And it is here that the main concern lies.  If there is a problem with over-regulation – micromanagement, as some call it – then fix that for everyone.  But if we are seriously attempting to raise standards so that the next generation has the ability to write English as well as Txt, or to use a computer for work as well as Facebook, then surely we need a uniformly good education system rather than a fragmented patchwork of garden shed experimenters and parent-run vanity projects?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

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