Jonathan Bartley on the Green Party's policy to bring schools back into local authority control.
Education for all! Let’s keep schools public
Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen the playing fields that your children play on, and the buildings they learn in, handed over to unaccountable academies. And each year we hand these academies huge chunks of cash to teach children a curriculum that these academies can decide themselves – with no oversight from the local authorities you vote for.
Academies now outnumber state run schools at secondary – and primary school academies are catching up. Slowly, academies are replacing the public education system as we know it – and we’re losing control of our children’s future. And whilst we are told this improves standards – the evidence just doesn’t prove it.
Education should be public. We need schools that are accountable to local communities. We need properly funded schools, and properly trained teachers. There aren’t any shortcuts.
"Academies are a complete red herring. If the billions that have been thrown at this programme had been invested in providing teachers with decent, evidence-based training which is “on-the-job”, then standards would have sky-rocketed and we would be vying with the best education systems in the world, such as those in Finland and Singapore." Francis Gilbert, The Guardian
What’s going on? Privatisation 2.0
Thirty years ago, Thatcher sold off ‘the family silver’. That was a total disaster.
But what’s happening with our schools is different. Instead of selling them off in one big go, we’re handing over the school playing fields, buildings and equipment to academies bit by bit, one school at a time. And we’re deregulating these new schools (free schools and academies) so that they can use taxpayers’ money in whatever they wish. This means you lose oversight of what’s being taught at your child’s school. This is meant to drive up standards, but it’s not working.
Strictly speaking, these academies (and free schools) are charities and aren’t run for profit. But that doesn’t stop lots of people making money from them.
"This is the most profound change to our education system in our lifetimes…and it’s all very wrong." Andrew Baisley, Teacher and Secretary Camden NUT
Why on earth would we do this?!
Academies were brought in (allegedly) to improve standards. To start with this may have been true, as only a few poorly performing schools were made into academies.
But what was a trickle turned into a flood. Over 60% of secondary schools are now academies. More primaries are being converted all the time. The government even tried to force all schools to become academies, but they were forced to back track. Even so, full-academisation is the destination we’re heading for. The government just want schools to do it voluntarily.
Hang on, don’t academies improve results?
No. There’s no evidence that academies improve standards. The Education Select Committee, the National Union of Teachers and various academics and research bodies like the Local Schools Network have all said the same thing: being an academy doesn’t improve standards. In fact, there’s evidence that academies improve more slowly than state run schools and that council-run schools do better than academies.
" Common sense should also tell you that just because you make a school independent of local authority control – which is effectively all an academy is – it doesn’t magically turn it into a beacon of learning. I teach in an academy and am a governor of one as well, and it’s not their academy status which makes them effective, it’s the teaching that goes on in them." Francis Gilbert, in the Guardian
If they don’t improve standards, then it’s arguable that these changes are more about taking the ‘public’ out of the education system and replacing it with private (if, for now at least, charitable) bodies.
"It has always been clear to the NUT that the creation of academies and free schools was about creating a market in education, not about school improvement. In this we have been proved correct. While parents and carers across England are worrying about whether their child will have a place in their local school…the Government has been squandering money on an ideological programme for which there is simply no evidence." Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Class
Academies = losing control
“The extraction of schools from local authority control seems to have created a series of fiefdoms whose self-made princes are almost totally unaccountable.” The Secret Teacher
Academies have the freedom to set their own admissions procedures, set their own curriculum, recruit teachers how they want (often with less training or worse pay and conditions), and decide how to use the money they receive from central government for teaching our children.
We were told that all of this would ‘free’ schools from the shackles of local authorities – bringing them closer to you as parents and putting more power in the hands of our teachers.
But the reality is different. Now, many academies are part of ‘multi-academy trusts’ (MATs). MATs are the fast-food of the education world, offering standardised curricula and teaching to schools in huge variety of areas, regardless of what the community, teachers or parents want. MATs are often run by businessmen and hedge fund managers, rather than education experts. And now they exert a control greater over your child’s education system than any local authority.
Even headteachers aren’t that powerful in many academies, as their decision making powers are reduced by micro-managing academy trusts.
What’s more, we’ve lost control of our children’s school buildings and playing fields. Whilst they’re run by charities at the moment, they could be sold off and there wouldn’t be much you could do about it.
"Even more worrying, the majority of schools, including nearly all primaries, will be accountable for their day-to-day running to private academy chains. Though schools are supposedly being set “free”, the chains will control teaching methods, curriculum, performance assessment, and teachers’ pay and promotion. Local councils have never enjoyed such wide-ranging powers... In other words, schools will escape “remote” town and county hall bureaucrats only to fall under the control of even more remote bureaucrats." Peter Wilby, The Guardian
Academies = no accountability
Academies and academy trusts are completely unaccountable to local communities and parents. They don’t legally have to have elected parent governors – or any governing body at all. And because they’re out of the control of local authorities, the people you vote for have no oversight either.
If you were worried about something at your child’s school wouldn’t it be better if it was run locally, with oversight from democratically elected councillors and governors? Wouldn’t it be better if teachers ran your school, not a distant academy chain?
"I guess it’s one of the great joys of being a teacher is feeling that you’re at the heart of the community, so for us to be pulling up the drawbridge and cutting everyone off around us and becoming more like a company or a private institution…that feels very wrong." Andrew Baisley, Teacher and Secretary Camden NUT
Academies don’t work for all children
Recent research suggests that academies in effect pick and choose their pupils – which they’re allowed to do because they can set their own admissions criteria. Some of the criteria are long and confusing – one school’s ran to SIX pages!
This means that some schools end up having many fewer pupils on free school meals than they would have if they were really representative of their community. This could create a two tier education system and worsen social segregation. But don’t all children deserve the same education? If your child received free school meals don’t they deserve a place at the local school?
The not-for-profit cash cows
Academies don’t improve standards, but they do make a lot of money for those running them, even if they’re technically ‘not for profit’.
- One academy trust paid out £700,000 to a company owned by its chief executive.
- Another academy trust paid a company set up by one of its trustees £3,000 a day in consultancy fees.
- The Observer ran a huge investigation into Mike Dwan, who runs a 12 school academy trust in the north of England, and found millions of pounds being paid to companies he owns.
"Is the corporate world supporting the academies through sponsorship, or are we in danger of allowing state schools to become subsidiaries in business empires, critics ask." The Observer
It’s tough for the government to keep proper tabs on where the money is going because it’s all run through complex company structures. But this is your money - taxpayers’ money – and it’s being used to make some people pretty wealthy, through our supposedly public education system. You’d be right to be annoyed!
Of course, none of this is necessarily illegal, but if you were setting up an ideal education system, funded by taxpayers, would it look like this? Do you want your academy trust to be making money out of your child’s education?
We need to end academisation and free schools
We want an education system that works for everyone. This means democratically accountable and transparent education system, where no child is left behind.
The only thing that makes education better is good teachers.
We need to stand with the National Union of Teachers as they oppose more academies – each academy undermines our public education system and local democratic accountability. And once we’ve lost control, it’s hard to get it back.
We need to focus on teacher training and funding our schools properly. We need a public education system.
Stay up to date with the latest news on academies through the National Union of Teachers
Join the campaign: Anti-Academies Alliance