I’ve never been the biggest fan of academies, I must be honest. It always seemed a strange idea to give schools more money and less controls on how they actually choose to spend the money. It sounds risky, to say the least.
Of course, the great argument was that it would cut back on all the useless red tape that’s caused so much waste over the years and would help schools improve. After all, that’s what the Labour government created it for in the first place – to help struggling schools. Of course, the Coalition opened it up to everyone and now we’ve got over 3,500 of them in England, or about 55% of all the secondary schools in the country. Talk about taking advantage of political change.
I’ve written extensively on the topic of academies and the dangerous nature of taking a step back from schools and giving them lots of money to play with. To me, it’s like giving a child lots of sweets… then forgetting to remind him not to eat them all at once and that if he swaps them, he has to find something suitable. Before you know it, he’s swapped his sweets for a hot dog from the local shop and he’s feeling ill. All in all, hindsight tells you a lot.
Of course, academies up and down the nation have justified their spending on the fact that their results had improved in their chosen specialisation, something which applies to the vast majority of cases. Of course, with Olympic Fever hitting the nation many schools became specialists in sports – the only measurable success in that respect was on the field, while the ‘core’ subjects were criminally missed. Of course, the debate with that begins is if academies are actually getting the job done in the first place.
Perhaps one of the key factors in this whole culture of “we can spend our money as we please” has been companies, enterprises and other organisations sponsoring schools, mainly around their specialism. The only tape the schools get in that case is having to consider what the sponsor expects them to do with that money. In some cases, there are companies, who form chains of academies across the country.
There was a little feeling when I first wrote about this that academies are lagging behind ‘maintained’ schools – those are under the control of the Local Education Authority in which they reside. The evidence was pointing to some struggles around – most notably in schools where there had been a period of improvement after being placed under special improvement measures, followed by regression in marks.
This week, it has come out in the news that one particular chain called E-Act is to lose control of 10 academies that it runs. This is after Ofsted raised concerns about the performance of some of the schools that E-Act operates. Whilst the list naming the schools has yet to be announced, the BBC reported that it was believed the schools were the academies at Trent Valley, Sherwood, Dartmouth, Forest, Leeds East and Leeds West.The 10 schools in question are now working with the Department for Education to find new sponsors.
When I get into some detail about some of the schools mentioned, it doesn’t surprise me, despite the troubling nature of some of the things I read…
- Trent Valley Academy – The academy classifies itself as having a double specialism in Performing Arts and Technology. Boasting some impressive-sounding statistics, it does seem like the sponsors queued up to get in on this particular school.The most recent Ofsted report for the school was rather damning, with the school being graded ‘inadequete.’
- Sherwood Academy – This particular academy has not been inspected by Ofsted yet and so there’s not really a lot to go on. However, in December last year the academy hired two ‘co-principals’ to help boost results, according to the Nottingham Post. You do have to wonder why, don’t you, especially with accusations of inadequate staff flying around.
- Dartmouth Academy – To the credit of the Academy, their specialism focuses on Visual Arts and Mathematics, so at least one of them concentrates on a core subject. However, in the last Ofsted report the school was graded as ‘Requires Improvement’, with extra attention paid to failings in English.
- Forest Academy – This school was also graded as needing improvement. Even the most basic of skills – reading and writing – were judged to be promblematic. The school leadership and the achievements of pupils were also graded similarly. However, the school frequently trumpets their sports facilities in their promotional material. Funny that.
The underlying theme in everything that I read was that the school management needs improvement, all of which comes down to E-Act. Amidst accusations of financial mismanagement, losing a third of your academies has got to be a little damming.
For once, I think Michael Gove is spot-on when he says that academies have to be held to account over their finances and performances. It certainly is not reasonable to allow academies ‘get out clauses’ because they’re run by sponsors.
The reaction from elsewhere has been significantly less proactive. The head of the Dartmouth academy claimed that it was a ‘huge distraction’ and handed the blame on to the sponsors.
The leader of the teacher’s union NASUWT, Chris Keates, argued that the ‘pass the parcel’ strategy was not going to work and wouldn’t support school’s improvements.A source close to the E-Act company claimed that it was not being done because of poor results but rather about giving fair access. Somehow I don’t believe a word of that. If the schools being removed from the control of E-Act all happen to have the same worrying signs, then I suspect we’re not hearing anything like the truth here.
Meanwhile, E-Act delivered one of the most appalling statements I’ve ever read…”
“E-ACT has been working with the DfE to identify where we are best placed to make a significant difference to our Academies. Our pupils, parents and staff deserve strong support and leadership. Our focus is on where we can provide this and to allow others to deliver elsewhere.”
Not only does it fail to recognise the problem in hand, but it just seems to skirt around any acknowledgement that things are changing. It certainly wouldn’t fill me with any confidence if I was involved.
Something has to change. Accusations of mismanagement and damning reports from Ofsted are clearly getting in the way of schools, specialisms and their sponsors. Key skills are being left out in favour of the continuation of prestige projects and schools being run like businesses.
Personally, I believe the system should be scrapped. The same problem exists in that some schools aren’t doing their jobs well, but at least having some control over what happens in schools and their money is better than letting companies like E-Act taking over, privatising education at the expense of children’s future as they go.