The Academies Commission report is yet another independent report that has exposed the myths behind academy status.
It has pointed out that academies are not a panacea for school improvement. It has identified worrying patterns of covert selection and it warns that the likely outcome is entrenched inequality.
Another major concern is the lack of accountability. Parents gave compelling evidence that their views were bypassed in the conversion process. There are also doubts about financial accountability echoing the recent National Audit Office report that revealed there has been a £1billion overspend on academy conversions.
The Anti-Academies Alliance welcomes some of this report. It has exposed Secretary of State Gove’s claims that academies are an unmitigated success. It also makes a fool of Lord Adonis, the new Labour minister who launched the programme. In his recent book Adonis claims that academies are ‘nationwide movement for educational transformation’. Yet all the old problems exist in academies. Some succeed, some fail. There is covert selection, mismanagement and inequality.
Like many report before it, the Academies Commission recognises that it is the quality of teaching and learning that improves education, not academy status or sponsors.This is important but it does not go far enough. In particular, the report is silent on the political agenda that lies behind the programme.
Academies are about privatisation, or what Gove calls a “supply side revolution”. They are part of a package of measures – the Ebacc curriculum reforms, the attack on teachers’ pensions, pay and conditions and the destruction of Local Authorities that will see a fundamental shift in the nature of state education. It is also about breaking open the education system so that corporate raiders can make profits.
Christine Gilbert, the author of the report, clearly sees the dangers as she points to the alarming variability in the quality of academy chains. There has been a policy of ‘smash and grab’ schools. Using underperformance as a pretext, chains are scooping up schools at an alarming rate and with no regard to parents’ wishes.
Last year 94% of parents at Downhills school in Haringey, north London opposed conversion yet their school was handed over to the Carpetright millionaire and Tory donor Lord Harris.
Parents want a good local school for every child. Yet the Coalition is engaged in a “war on teachers” which will ration good schools for a select few. Rather than build capacity for improving schools in a climate of consensus, Gove is courting divisions and deliberately picking a fight. This means parents have to take sides.
When teachers fight back against academies or attacks on their pay and conditions it can seem like this will damage children’s education. Work to rule or strike action by teachers is often presented negatively in the media. Yet it is perhaps the only route left to us to protect our education system. We certainly can’t rely on the leaders of the three main political parties and we can’t wait until the next election.
Last year Gove claimed he was ‘marching towards the sound of gunfire’. He is picking a fight with teachers and parents. He has a political agenda borne out of austerity and privatisation. Our children deserve much better. We need to stand together, to defend our education system and to argue for new deal in education that builds on evidence of what works.
See Terry Wrigley’s research on Academies and achievement.