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Are Academies a way of introducing more Private Education?

THE number of academy schools, in the UK, has dramatically risen since the Coalition of 2010. Under the Labour government there was only 203 Academies. Under the current Conservative government we now have 2,075 academy secondary schools, accounting for over 61% of all secondary’s in the country. While 2,440 of 16,766 primary schools are now academies, showing a significant growth under a Conservative government, our reporter George Harrison went to investigate whether academies are a way of introducing more private education.

WHAT IS AN ACADEMY?

On surface level academy don’t look any different to state schools. However they adhere to their own rules. They are funded directly by the government, as opposed to non-academy state schools, which are funded through a local authority. A Headteacher or principal heads up the running of the school, but individual charitable bodies, called academy trusts, oversee the overall running of the school.

Academies are split into two categories: Sponsored or Converter. Sponsored tend to be ‘underperforming’ schools that can be funded by faith groups, universities or businesses, also taking on majority control of these schools. Effectively taking these schools from the governments hands.

In the Teesside area, Tees Valley Education is one trust set up in 2010. Brambles and Pennyman primary schools formed a partnership on 2010, with both going on to become academies in September 2012.

Academies don’t have to follow national curriculum, a contentious point in the argument against them.  As well as having greater freedom to decide their own term-times and admissions.

An argument against these are that half the population of children will enter secondary schools effectively having learnt a completely different educational skill set to their peers.

TEES: These are the three academies who make up the Teesside Valley Education trust

ARE ACADEMIES SUCCESSFUL?

Depending on who it is that defines success, you may get varying degrees of answers for this. One of the main reasons some schools jump at the chance is the budgetary benefits, be it simply they are promised more money than local authority schools.

To compare the successful nature of academies, compared to local authority schools, would be to look at recent Ofsted grades.

At face value, the number of ‘outstanding’, the highest verbal grade available, performing schools are predominantly academies, thus proving academies are succesful.

However, these schools already performed at an ‘outstanding’ level before their conversion to academies. The converter academy, which are schools that generally previously performed at ‘outstanding level’ rarely need sponsors and intercepting from third party companies.

Sponsored academies on a whole have rarely produced better Ofsted ratings than local authority schools.

Of the ten highest performing primary schools in Middlesbrough, half are academies, showing no correlation between the success of the different types of schools. 

PRIMARY: The top 5 performing primary schools in Middlesbrough, show no advantage to Academy status.

Whilst it seems the number of academies to maintained schools, in Middlesbrough, is split down the middle.

The secondary schools of Middlesbrough have caught the Academy bug. As, apart from special schools and of the seven which have their results published, only one is a maintained school. Acklam Grange sit alone. Not only that, they are right up their in the league tables, toppling other more reputable schools such as Kings Academy, in most categories and even toppling Macmillan Academy, long thought of as the best, in some categories.

This school shows that improvement and a good performance can still be attained under local authority.

SECONDARY: While Academies dominate this stage, one local authority schools continues to perform higher than most.

WHATS BEST FOR THE KIDS?

A major argument for the returning Conservative party, in 2010, for introducing academies into our education system was that they are better at achieving higher test scores, at each given Key Stage.

‘The Academies programme is not about ideology. It’s an evidence-based, practical solution built on by successive governments – both Labour and Conservative.’ said Education Secretary Michael Gove.

This was said very early into his tenure as the Education Secretary. This stance shown is very much on the defensive and trying to eradicate any idea that this is new, trying to establish that it was the natural progression to go forward.

‘Futures are being blighted. Horizons are being limited. Generations of children are being let down.’ Gove said, here he stands firm showing that this decision will be for the benefit of all children.

Gove went onto champion Academies with great passion saying they ‘becoming an academy is a liberation’ and listing the ‘innovative curricula’ as one of many reasons why they give these schools freedom.

GOVE: The much maligned Michael. The introducer of Academies with his fair share of enemies and allies.

While it can be argued that individual schools know how to help their individual pupils in their own specific ways, does this not present so many situations in which pupils going to different schools are disadvantaged or in some cases advantaged?

I interviewed Sheila Hauxwell, current Headteacher of Beech Grove Primary, in Middlesbrough, a maintained school, and she does believe that some Academies act in the best interest of the pupils. ‘Some of the academy sponsors have the very best interests of the children at heart and some are based and driven by educationalists. Those academy sponsors know exactly what schools need and they provide that.’ she said.

However she also shed light on how sponsored academies can be mistreated.

‘Some of the ones (academies) where they are not educationally based have been known to take that money from the school budget and actually provide them with nothing in return.’ she said.

Sheila added. ‘A sponsor that took some schools locally (Middlesbrough) actually provided them nothing but took 5% of the school budget.’

HEADTEACHER: Sheila Hauxwell gave her concerns on rising Academies.

SO IS IT A FORM OF PRIVATISATION? 

While the discussion of whether Academies are for better is definitely up for debate. There are positives and negatives to that discussion. But whether schools will go the way of the transport system is this discussion.

Converter Academies are funded directly by the government. However sponsored Academies can be given funded from third-organisations and can be controlled by organisations.

Therefore, it would be fair to say Academies are a form of privatisation, once that control is taken away from a governmental body and that such things as the length of school days, term times and the curriculum taught are allowed to be decided separately then that becomes privatisation.

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