When Japanese Knotweed was first introduced into this country nearly two
hundred years ago as an ornamental plant, no-one would guessed what menace it would become. Likewise when Tony Blair’s government opened the first Academy in Bexley 16 years ago, the privately run, but publicly funded initiative was trumpeted as a way of trying to break a cycle of failure in areas with extremely challenging conditions. But should all state schools be forced to become Academies?
Many government initiatives over the years have been heralded as saviours of one aspect of the educational system or another. In the 1980s the Assisted Places Scheme was Mrs Thatcher’s big idea to break the mould by promote the merits of independent schools over comprehensives; more recently Free Schools are supposed to deliver parental choice and flexibility of the curriculum…..
This latest announcement on the future of Academies in the 2016 Budget is a quite extraordinary development. Perhaps even more controversial is that the proposal also includes the abolition of the right of a parent to sit on a school’s governing body, just by dint of being a parent of a child in the school. Whatever one thinks of Academies, the idea that local authorities should be simply cut out of the management of schools, a role they have had had since 1870, is almost unbelievable. Proposing to strip parents of their right to join a schools Governing Body and participate in the process of their child’s education is astonishing.
Academies may in some instances be quite small bodies, but many academies are now part of academy chains. The largest chain, the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) , runs 67 academies across England. Does it perform well in this role ? In February 2016 this chain in England was accused by Ofsted of “failing too many pupils“. The inspectors described almost half of the schools in the chain as “less than good“, and warned that poorer pupils do “particularly badly“.
The plans announced in the budget would see our schools and their assets given into the control of private organisations, who are often operating for profit and always operating without local, democratic oversight.
The Derbyshire Times recently reported that “as many as half of all lessons in some Derbyshire academies are being taught by unqualified staff”.
Opposition is mounting to this policy – unannounced in the Conservative Party General Election manifesto – even among Conservative MPs and leaders of some Conservative controlled councils. So, we have a chance of stopping this privatisation of our children’s education. In our own county, parents and teachers organised in Matlock and Derbyshire Anti-Academies have held well-attended protests. Get involved!
Whereas Government and politicians come and go, our children only get one chance to pass through the educational system. The Green Party believes in a well-funded, accountable school system which should have the welfare of all our children at its core, and which should not be endangered by the latest fad, or short-sighted career aspiration of Westminster politicians.
Have your say about this vital issue! Write to your MP, tweet your point of view, write to Nicky Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org), Secretary of State for Education!
The forced conversion of all state schools to academy status is one insanity too far!
Paul Tattam and Jane Reynolds