Monday, 28 March 2016

Academisation of schools

Recent proposals to force all schools to become academies have caused BFTF to pay attention to this issue.

Whilst it does not affect BFTF directly (Little No3 Son is well on this way through secondary education at a school that is already an academy), BFTF cares about the quality of education in England, and that the structures delivering it are accountable, well run and effective. Lets look at each of these in turn.

BFTF was disturbed to read a report recently on what happened when a local journalist tried to find out about proposals for Halewood Academy to close its Sixth Form.

The school would not comment, and directed the reporter to their website (where the consultation letter and proposal could be found)

The council would not comment, saying that academies were the responsibility of central government.

With parent anger growing, the reporter tried to speak to someone at the school again - to no avail.

The council then directed the reporter to the "regional schools commissioner", who was responsible for overseeing academies on the governments behalf.

The commisioner told the reporter to talk to the Department of Education.

And the Department of Education had already told parents that "the government and Parliament aren't responsible!

Well Run - Assets
BFTF hears a lot of concerns about land and buildings that were previously publically owned being gifted to private companies on academisation. DoE advice sdescribes how schools becoming academies should " transfer your school’s land to the academy trust."

PFI continues to be a be a big issue. A CoE secondary school, built via PFI, and which wished to become part of a Multi-Academy-Trust is described in a public service article thus:

"The PFI agreement includes a series of facilities management contracts lasting up to 25 years and costing more than £1m a year. At a time of budget reductions, this commitment puts the long-term financial security of the school at risk. The school’s governors are fully aware of this and are deeply concerned about the future viability of the school. They hoped that academy ‘freedoms’ would give them the opportunity to renegotiate the PFI contract, but this appears to be legally impossible.

The diocese is reluctant to take on such an open-ended financial burden, which must be a disincentive to any potential sponsor. Its independent auditors concluded that the PFI contract did not meet the school’s needs, did not function effectively and did not provide value for money. For the diocese, voluntary aided status might offer the best of both worlds. It would increase its influence on the governing body and would give it more control over the land and assets of the school, without having to take on the same financial risks that it would if the school were an academy."

On the other hand, an article at the right-wing Policy Exchange site describes how government policy aims to separate the procurement and management of schools, so that there is no conflict of interest between the two roles.

Well Run - Management
Disturbing to read that the current oversight system did not spot the severe financial irregularities of the Perry Beeches Academy chain, and took six months (!) to respond to warnings raised by a whistleblower.

In 2015, the Chair of the Education Committee commented that :

"Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children. It is clear though that academisation has led to greater competition, challenging many maintained schools to improve and incentivising local authorities to develop speedier and more effective interventions in underperforming schools."

BFTF notes that academies do not have to follow the national curriculum or employ trained teachers. That does not sound like a recipe for success, but it does sound like a recipe for cost cutting. What is the point of a national curriculum if no school has to follow it? How can one compare schools (excpt via GCSE results) if there is no benchmark?

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