IAIN WRIGHT: Re-think needed on academies plan

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In Parliament last week there was a debate about school academies. The Government has proposed that every school, regardless of whether parents or school leaders wish to, should become an academy.

You may be a parent or grandparent and your children may be affected by this change should it become law. It requires proper scrutiny because, quite frankly, this proposal doesn’t seem to have many supporters and has a growing band of opponents, including many Tory MPs, who voiced their concern in the Parliamentary debate.

Education is vital. Good schooling is very often the difference towards ensuring a rewarding and successful life. In specific circumstances, and with the consent of all those affected, academies can have their place.

However, it seems that with all the pressures faced by schools today – real-term cuts in school budgets for the first time in 20 years, a growing number of teachers leaving the profession due to constant changes and an ever-increasing workload- leading to teacher shortages - as well as massive changes to the curriculum being taught and the exams being examined, it is odd, if not ill-judged, that the Government should ask headteachers to put resources of time, money and effort into a forced and very costly reorganisation of this country’s school system.

There are some excellent academies, providing a rich educational experience.

There are some fantastic schools which are not academies providing superb teaching and educational outcomes for its pupils. It is not a simple matter of saying that a particular type of school provides the best possible education. This policy from the Government doesn’t seem to be about school improvement, but about ideology.

The vast majority of schools which will be affected by this proposal will be primary schools. Less than one in five primary schools are academies, and yet more than four out of every five schools are classed as good or outstanding. Why waste time and money on this exercise if the evidence suggests that it doesn’t lead to wholescale improvements in how a child performs at school?

The Government has suggested that this policy is about improved freedoms and autonomies for the schools, but there seems very little freedom if the Government is forcing schools to be academies, and forcing schools to become part of more distant multi-academy chains which could have senior management ever more distant from parents.

All the evidence suggests that schools do well when they collaborate and partner with other local schools, clustered around a local authority.

This is not the local authority controlling or imposing things upon local schools, but providing a means of partnership and strategic co-ordination that benefits the local area and – most importantly of all – ensures that pupils and young people benefit from the best possible education.

I voted against the Government’s proposals in Parliament last week and, despite the growing unrest from Tory MPs on this matter, the Government was still able to use its majority in the House of Commons to win the vote. However, there is still opportunity for the Government to think again and pull back from this centrally-imposed, top-down reorganisation and ensure that good education and the needs of a child are put first.