It seemed so easy, didn’t it?
The government would encourage schools to become academies – they would be free of local authority control, be backed by external sponsors and have much more say in their operation:
- Staff pay and conditions are managed by the school, not by the local authorities.
- The national curriculum can be delivered how and when the school pleases.
- The school day and the terms dates can be modified as the school sees fit – no red tape.
Of course, the laws on admissions, excluding pupils and special educational needs remains the same. Furthermore, academies aren’t able to start selecting who attends, so, in layman’s terms, they are basically schools with more power over the school day and how they spend their money.
If you’ve been to school over the last few years, you’ll note the bureaucracy over getting anything done.
Everything has to be discussed and debated for months on end before anything is ever done – more often than not; you’ll find that the students are ignored to push forward the next big idea. I remember the furore created when teachers proposed a vertical class system, where form tutors would be given a mix of children from different age groups. Parents and kids protested against it, yet the idea still went forward and proved to be a glorious shining beacon of failure (much to the confusion of senior staff and mirth of the kids.)
Getting rid of the authority issues and suddenly it seems a legitimate idea. Why not fund schools, but let them decide what to do?
Well, hold it right there. They’re not all that they seem. Over the last few years I’ve watched my old secondary school become an academy – what has happened there was textbook…
The money coming in doesn’t always go out where you’d expect
So the LEAs give schools their budgets and finances for the year. However, there is a real concern that, without the red tape there, schools are spending the money willy-nilly. Prestige projects, even.
My old school received a hefty sum for becoming a specialist school – a dual speciality in sports and science. This was over five years ago – the science laboratories are still in a pretty poor state, yet the school has forked out £2m for an AstroTurf Field and nearly double that on top for a sports hall and overly-priced (and small) gym.
I think it is safe to say, had the school remained under the guidance of the LEA (it became an academy soon after), there would have been a much more balanced spend of the money. This is just one example of where some sort of control is needed in all areas of what goes on. Of course, there is a whole argument over sports facilities and their use to the community. However, giving out grants and removing restrictions is inherently dangerous – my school made a mess of it.
It turns out… the results aren’t looking all that awesome
According to the Independent, the first load of schools to be awarded academy status struggled with their exam results, lagging behind maintained schools and suffering a marked drop in performance over the last year. It could be, according to Professor Alan Smithers (University of Buckingham), underperforming schools going back to their old ways. Schools that were placed under special measures have improved, and then regressed. In my school, I watched science retention rates drop and people become less and less interested in the subject. The exam grades were good, but padded out the fact that less were taking the subject. The double whammy, it could be argued.
The whole point of the academy system was to help try and improve performance in schools and remove the red tape that surrounded schools. It appears that removing the restrictions on funding has not only left the system open to potential abuse, but it is also clear that some schools are not where they should be.
Surely leaving them under local authority control would have been better? The evidence suggests that they would be better off in their results too.