Hey, Carillion and co! Leave those kids alone!

22 February 2018

A teacher says...

What are academies and why does it matter?

In general terms, as the Department for Education states, academies are ‘publicly funded independent schools’. Wait a minute…publicly funded? That’s something we should be happy with, right? Well here’s the issue: ‘Some academies have sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, faith groups or voluntary groups.’ This is where the alarm bells, (or school bells?) begin to ring. 
Parents, teachers, politicians and other professionals have raised many concerns regarding private sector involvement in our education system. The well-publicised collapse of Carillion will affect many of us, either directly through jobs losses, or as a result of delayed or disrupted public services. Schools are not immune; two schools in the north-west are run by The Carillion Academies Trust, undoubtedly causing unnecessary stress and uncertainty for parents, teachers and children alike. 

A market for schools?

The drive towards academies was born out of a desire to improve ‘failing’ schools. But some of these schools, as the Guardian has reported, have failed to attract academy sponsors. The National Education Union’s Kevin Courtney sees this as the result of the marketisation of the education system, where “academy sponsors will refuse to take on schools which are in difficult circumstances. We have raised the issue with the government as to what happens to these struggling schools. We get no answer. It is a huge hole in the government’s policy.”
Surely the education of our children should not be in the hands of businesses. Imagine seeing ‘Pepsi presents Market Harborough Academy Primary School’ when you drop off your daughter in the morning, or your teenage son returning home from ‘Serco School, Sheffield’.  In our diverse society, where we embrace different views on religion and culture, do we want particular faith groups deciding on what kind of education our children will have? 
Whilst these may seem far-fetched or bizarre, the fact that our schools are being taken away from local authorities and given, in some cases, to private interests, means they are no longer accountable to the local community.  Academies are run by chief executives or central government; some of these CEO’s salaries range from at least £150,000 a year to £425,000.
Academy trusts take over school land and buildings. Who is responsible for these assets? What could they, or what will they do with them? We need proper public accountability to make sure there is adequate and fit-for-purpose land for schools to exist on in the future.

Academies don’t get results

Despite the disruption, the excess pay and loss of local accountability, could it be argued that it’s really all worth it?  Research has ‘not found convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools’. If there is no clear positive impact on the standards of education, then why have recent governments been driving forward academisation? 
Howard Stevenson of Nottingham University has said: “There is no evidence base to support this claim [that ‘academisation’ will drive up standards]." So why the drive to academisation? The answer lies in understanding that academisation is not about quality education for all but about a fundamental transformation of the English school system whereby public schools are transferred into private hands...The process is initially gradual as individual schools are forced to become academy schools and in due course all schools are drawn into Multi-Academy Trusts. In turn these Trusts become larger and larger.”
Even at Westminster, an influential parliamentary committee has told ministers that “schools do not always benefit from joining multi-academy trusts because they do not receive value for money and are "asset-stripped" when a trust fails”. 

So how do we fix it?

One in ten people changed their voting intention in the run up to the general election due to school cuts. Education affects us all.  You would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe that every school should be fairly funded.
Local governance of schools will ensure that funding goes towards ensuring improvements in education rather than lining the pockets of other interests. Public land should be kept in public hands and used for the benefit of children in the community. Under local authority control all schools can be accountable to pupils and parents, with strong links to the local community. 
We need to end private interest in our schools by putting education before profits. 

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John Wilkins replied on

Rochdale MBC, Labour controlled, were giving Carillion the contract to build a new Primary School only last year. This year they are planning a brand new 6 form entry Secondary Free School/Academy. So politicians in both major parties are supporting this model of education.

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