Nicky Morgan is wrong – the evidence for academies doesn’t add up

Henry Stewart writes for the Guardian:

The education secretary Nicky Morgan has today launched a bill designed to sweep away any obstacles when as many as 1,000 “struggling” schools convert to academies. It is designed to prevent appeals and reviews, and will impose a new duty on councils and governing bodies, whatever they believe is best for their children, to actively support the change to academy status. Morgan justifies this on the basis that “a day spent in special measures is a day too long where a child’s education is concerned” and that it will allow education experts to help out poorly performing schools as soon as possible.

The underlying claim here is that academy conversion is a simple process that leads not just to improvement, but to that school becoming outstanding. Morgan may believe this, but it is hard to find any evidence to support it. The education select committee, chaired by Graham Stuart of the Conservatives, carried out a thorough review of academies and free schools and found no such evidence. “Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school,” was one of their conclusions. Indeed, Morgan has ignored their recommendation that “the government should stop exaggerating the success of academies”.

Similarly, the National Foundation for Educational Research found that “no significant improvement is seen in the rate of improvement of GCSE results for academy schools over and above the rate of improvement in all schools”. The Department for Education itself, in a high court case last summer, argued only for “marginally higher” achievement for academies rather than the dramatic results that Morgan is claiming.

Our own analysis at the Local Schools Network has consistently shown that when schools are converted to academies their improvement is no better than similar local authority schools. Indeed, in last year’s GCSE figures, the results of sponsored academies consistently fell more than the results of non-academies.

After Ofsted inspections carried out since conversion, 8% of primary sponsored academies, and 14% of secondaries, are currently rated “inadequate”. It is not clear what the government’s solution is for children in these schools in special measures. The evidence would suggest the best solution might be to hand them back to local authorities, but this is unlikely to happen under this government.

When Morgan talks of bringing in “education experts”, she is referring to the academy chains that now dominate the government’s approach to education. Far from knowing exactly how to make a school outstanding, most underperform compared to local authorities. The Department for Education’s own analysis found that, of the top 20 chains, only three had performances, in terms of value added, that were above the national average.

 Ofsted is not allowed to directly inspect chains, as it does with local authorities, but has carried out mass inspections of the schools in specific chains. This has resulted in highly critical conclusions on several chains. In two of the largest chains, at least half of the schools were rated “requires improvement” or “inadequate”.

There have been successful campaigns against the conversions of schools. At Hove Park school in Brighton academisation was fought off after parents voted against it in a council-run poll. At Snaresbrook primary school in Redbridge, the DfE agreed not to go ahead with academy conversion after parents won the support of the Conservative-run local council. It now appears that such actions would be prevented under the new legislation.

The government’s claims about the effect of academy conversion are assertions based on ideology, not data. In this light it is especially worrying that councils and governors are to be forced to ignore both the evidence and their conscience. Instead of a duty to do what is best for the children, their duty now will apparently be to support government policy.

Posted in Media, News | Tagged , | Comments Off on Nicky Morgan is wrong – the evidence for academies doesn’t add up

Raising Standards or Privatising Schools? – The truth behind the Education Bill


This article looks at the recent developments following the election, Nicky Morgan’s announcement of a new Education Bill and the recent victory in Lewisham against at a MAT (multi-academy trust) conversion. Martin Powell Davies from SAIL (Stop Academies in Lewisham Campaign) explains in detail behind the victory. National Secretary of AAA, Alasdair Smith, outlines the context, analyses Tory policy and discusses the implications of the Lewisham victory.


The unexpected election result has generated a whiff of Tory triumphalism. They believe they have a mandate on social policy and, although it was not mentioned in their manifesto, they plan a radical extension of the academies programme to include ‘coasting’ schools. Yet there is no evidence that their education policies are popular. Ironically, Lynton Crosby (Cameron’s spin doctor) argued a year before the election that Gove had to be sacked to detoxify the Tories.

But now the Tories believe they have the wind in the sails. Morgan’s announcement of a new Education Bill is pure Gove: More “failure”, more blame, more academies, and more privatisation.

This government only has one education policy – privatise everything. They seem oblivious to the fact that academy conversion doesn’t guarantee school improvement, social justice or more autonomy.


“If you are going to tell a lie, tell a big one and tell it often”.

The academies programme has always been short of evidence. But under Gove and now Morgan, the lies and misrepresentation have grown to Orwellian ‘doublethink’ levels. The press statement made on 3rd June 2105 demonstrates this clearly. This is what she said:

“Today’s landmark bill will allow the best education experts to intervene in poor schools from the first day we spot failure. It will sweep away the bureaucratic and legal loopholes previously exploited by those who put ideological objections above the best interests of children,”

First it is not a landmark bill. It’s a continuity bill following directly in the footsteps of the 2010 Act that created the framework for accelerating academies conversion by removing any shred of democratic decision-making and turning consultation into farce (The 2010 Act allows consultation to happen after the decision to convert had already been made).

The hollow rhetoric about ‘spotting failure on the first day’ and ‘allowing the best education experts to fix it’ is obscene. The implication is that heads, governors, teachers and parents are either too stupid or malicious to see problems in their own school. If Morgan had any understanding of what it means to run, or even work in a school, she would not make such a statement. This use of ‘failure’ to pursue ideological convictions is very damaging to school communities. It masks the real problems and encourages fake or dishonest solutions.

Finally, Morgan’s claim that campaigners have exploited legal loopholes for ideological reasons is a classic inversion of reality. There are almost no bureaucratic hurdles or loopholes to conversion. Trust me, if there were, the AAA would have used them. There have been hardly any successful judicial reviews and where successful they have only stalled the process temporarily, usually because the consultation arrangements were not followed properly. Academy conversion requires a simple majority decision of the governing in one meeting only. It can take place in a matter of 6 to 8 weeks. Perhaps the only exception to this has been events in Lewisham (see below) but this came as a surprise to us and is apparently the result of a drafting mistake in the 2010 Act.

All this fakery about bureaucratic and legal loopholes is a smokescreen to hide the widespread concerns by parents and teachers about the lack of democracy and honesty in academy conversion. Over the last 8 years we have supported hundreds of groups asking for help against conversion. They approach us. They are not motivated by ideology. In fact their usual complaint is that ideology (“academy conversion is good”) is being forced on them. There is a barely a week that goes by without another request for help, another complaint another group of parents frustrated that their views are not listened to.

Just this week, we have been contacted by a group of Somali parents in West London concerned about the lack of consultation in an Ark primary school. A teacher and governor in Medway in Kent contacted us about a scandalous cover-up of child abuse in an academy. A parent has written to us complaining of bullying by an academy head in Wolverhampton. People are contacting us because the normal avenues for complaints have been closed. Accountability is dying. It is being replaced by corporate dictat.

So while the ‘sweeping away of resistance’ may make for good headlines in the Tory press, the reality is very different. Injustice creates resistance. If there are no checks on a system, abuse will increase. This is exactly what is happening. Schools are now the victims of financial scandals, cronyism and outright corruption. They have also seen the growth of ‘fat-catism’ – as a minority of heads or CEO’s have chosen to pay themselves huge salaries (£365,000 is the highest we know of).


“One size does fit all, after all”

For years the proponents of academy movement claimed that local authority schools were straight-jacketed by a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Academies would bring diversity and innovation they said. So it seems a little ironic that that Nicky Morgan now believes that one corporate school improvement policy fits all circumstances. Schools in the newly invented category ‘coasting’ schools apparently require exactly the same treatment as schools in ‘Special Measures’. Whatever the problem, the only solution is academisation. Yet parents, teachers and head teachers know that academisation is not a magic bullet for school improvement. Morgan says that academy status will prevent children languishing in under-performing schools but 46% of sponsored academies are themselves judged by Ofsted as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, including a number in MAT chains.


What’s going to happen to failing academies, Nicky?

The Secretary of State has some important questions to answer. But perhaps the central question is what happens to failing academies? Are they taken over by other academies? Why can’t successful local authorities step in and support these schools? What happens if an academy wants to go back to the local authority? What happens if parents aren’t satisfied with their academy? And so on. These questions have been asked but the only answer that I am aware of is that other academies will take them over. In the long run this means the takeover of schools as big chains swallow up small chains and single schools. Michael Gove called it a ‘supply side revolution’. It is a nightmare scenario that has already been tested on public transport and increasingly in health. It leads to a concentration and centralisation of power in the hands of the few. The consumer – the parents and children –will be dominated by corporate power. No wonder, they talk about the need to sweep away resistance.


Opposition will continue

This Tory attempt to silence dissent and deny a democratic voice for parents and staff will backfire. In effect they are saying ‘we don’t care what you think, we know best. Forget evidence, our ideas are more important. Business is best and anyone who disagrees can get lost’. Such hubris breeds resentment and can create deep divisions. It creates a ‘them and us’ culture.

If school communities degenerate into head teacher and governors v parents and staff, our children will be the losers. The social fabric of our school system –already fraying at the edges – will unravel further.

Yet there are good grounds for optimism. Teachers and their unions are still fighting conversions, and in some cases resorting to strike action. Parents are demanding ballots on conversion and at Hove Park last year a particular controversial conversion was halted by united, parent & teacher action.

Although the Lewisham technicality may soon be closed, we should use the law as it now stands to halt any current proposals for MATs. We also need to target this new Education Bill – inside and outside parliament. And we’ll need to find new ways for parents and others to get justice within a privatised education system.

But there’s something else to watch. Schools will feel the full brunt of austerity measures in the coming months and years. Not only will the quality of our education system be threatened, the full force of privatisation – for profit schooling – maybe unleashed. For the proponents of GERM – the Global Educational Reform Movement – austerity provides the perfect opportunity for privatisation and an education world dominated by corporations such a Pearson and Murdoch’s NewsCorp. This is the real  Tory education vision.


Victory in Lewisham – by Martin Powell Davies

Anti-academy campaigners from SAIL, the Stop Academies in Lewisham Campaign, are celebrating after the Chair of Governors of the Prendergast Federation announced to parents today that they are stopping the ongoing consultation on their plans to convert their three federated schools into a Multi Academy Trust. Instead of being able to go ahead with a vote for academy conversion at the upcoming Governing Body meeting on June 17, they have had to defer their conversion plans in the face of a legal challenge made by a parent.

The challenge was based on Regulation 46 of the School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations 2012. SAIL campaigners spotted that this Regulation stated that, at least when an Academy Order is being applied for “in respect of a federated school” (like the three schools in the current Prendergast Federation of three maintained schools”), the application must be made by specific categories of Governor. These include “the head teacher of the federated school”, “any parent governor or parent governors elected by parents of registered pupils at the federated school” and “any staff governor employed by the federated governing body or local authority to work at the federated school”.

When the Prendergast Governors met to vote for an Academy Order in February 2015, one parent governor was absent and the elected staff governor voted against the application. Clearly, the Regulations had not been followed and the Governors have therefore had little choice but to retreat.

While these Regulations remain in force, then other campaigners may want to make a similar challenge. Labour MP Kevin Brennan has also tabled a series of parliamentary questions asking how many other Academy Orders made on behalf of a federated school since September 2012 and whether they have complied with Regulation 46.

Of course, this is only a temporary victory as it’s clear that the DfE now intends to rewrite its own rules to prevent such a challenge being made in future. Sheila Longstaff, DfE ‘Project Lead, Academies South Division’ has written complaining that “it is disappointing that this issue has delayed the academy conversion of a school when the majority of the governing body voted in favour of the applications”. That sentence gives the game away as to how little the DfE care for genuine consultation – as they clearly expected the outcome to be conversion whatever was said by parents, staff and the local community in response to the academy proposals.

At least the current Regulations – introduced under the last Conservative Government after all – make sure that Governors can’t just force through academisation of a federated school but have to win the backing of a range of stakeholders. Even the Thatcher and Major Governments legislated for parental ballots before a school could take on grant-maintained status. For this Government, however, it seems that winning the support of the school community is just an awkward hindrance to their ideological mission to rip apart democratically accountable local authority schooling.

Pro-academy Governors may be angered by the legal challenge but parents, students and staff are delighted. That’s because this challenge was just one part of a deep-rooted community opposition to the academy plans that included meetings, strikes and local demonstrations. Governors had failed to convince the school community that academisation was in the interest of education – and how could they when the educational evidence simply isn’t there to support academies?

Posted in News, Top story | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Raising Standards or Privatising Schools? – The truth behind the Education Bill

New Education Bill – The democratic right to question academy status


When Nicky Morgan took over from Michael Gove there was a sigh of relief from schools across England when she said she was not a forcing type of person.  But her first education bill could force hundreds of headteachers on to the scrap heap and their schools into multi academy chains.

What are the so-called roadblocks that the DfE cites?  Will parents and staff have a right to be consulted about academy status?  Do communities have a right to protest against decisions made in Whitehall about their local schools? People have a democratic right to question decision-makers over how public money is spent, especially when their national assets are being gifted on 125 year leases to friends of the Tory government.  

Parents object to academies because they know there’s a lack of local accountability and that academies don’t have to employ qualified teachers. Inspiration Trust has advertised for unqualified teachers at a salary of just £16,300 and STEM6 in Islington tried to move its teachers on to zero-hours contracts. And parents don’t like the fact that there’s no turning back – a failing academy cannot be transferred back to its local authority.

Parents, teachers and headteachers know that academisation is not a magic bullet for school improvement. The techniques cited by the executive headteachers and academy principals to raise standards are available to every school. Nicky Morgan says that academy status will prevent children languishing in under-performing schools but 46% of sponsored academies are themselves judged by Ofsted as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, including a number in the MAT chains quoted in the DfE’s press release.  

There is no rationale behind the conversion of these schools.  Parliament’s own education select committee said it found no evidence, after a decade of the academies movement, that academy status had improved performance.  We can only conclude that Morgan’s latest drive to extend academy status is intended to further disempower teachers, governors and local communities while allowing trustees to line their own corporate pockets.

Parent campaigners from Downhills School in Tottenham said:

Downhills Primary was not failing its pupils.  Parents and governors defended the school because it was inclusive, happy and improving.  SATS results had rocketed from 37% to 64% and, in October 2011, Ofsted said the school had a ‘clear trend of improvement’ and ‘experienced senior staff with high levels of expertise’.

The school governors believed that academisation would be a distraction from the school’s development and they issued a legal challenge to the then Secretary of State.  So just a few weeks later, in January 2012, Michael Gove sent the same inspector back to the school who judged it as a total failure.  

The governors and parents recognised that academy status does not of itself lead to school improvement – just this week, for example, a primary academy in Cambridgeshire has gone into special measures.  Parents recognised the academies and free schools programme is a smokescreen to hand control of public assets to corporate interests and to the government’s wealthy cronies.


Notes to editors:

For further information please contact 07904 296701


Posted in News, Top story | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on New Education Bill – The democratic right to question academy status

Show us the Evidence!


The announcement over the weekend that Nicky Morgan will speed up the process to make schools that are ‘coasting’ into academies, is an about face for the Education secretary. She has previously said that the academy model is not the only model that succeeds. Yet now the message is: “Academies are a ‘better kind’ of school than local authority ones”.

This is despite the fact that every study done has shown that there is no evidence to back this claim. Indeed Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted said ‘Struggling schools are ‘no better off’ under academy control’ after the annual Ofsted report this year.

Morgan referred to successful chains such as Harris. The Harris federation is run by a Tory peer and donor, multi-millionaire Lord Harris. Morgan also issued threats to sack head teachers and boards of governors. ‘This kind of talk is not helpful’ said Geoff Barton, a leading Head teacher, on Radio 4’s Today programme.

The ‘listening’ , ‘more carrot than stick’ approach of Morgan, who sought to be different from Gove, seems to have come to an abrupt end. The decision to revert to the Govian ‘war on the teaching profession’ policy has been met with hostility from education unions. Parents and teachers will need to let Nicky Morgan know that she will become as unpopular as Gove if she continues in this vein.


Posted in News, Top story | Tagged , | Comments Off on Show us the Evidence!

University of Brighton Trust Free School – Not wanted here


Shorefields protests against UCAT take over


From Warrington to Brighton – let’s hope history isn’t repeating itself.
Back in 2013 the University of Chester Academies Trust opened an academy in Warrington – the University Academy Warrington. Three years earlier the proposal to open the academy had sparked controversy. The Warrington Guardian quoted the Council’s shadow spokesman for children expressing concern that the academy ‘would destabilise the current system, which works well’ and the president of the teachers’ union, the NASUWT, who lived locally, warned that the academy would be run outside of council control. He said ‘I’m certain that people don’t understand the implications it will have on the families and children in Warrington.’ However, a senior Council officer was more sanguine: ‘We are currently in an ongoing dialogue with the University of Chester to assess if an institution of this type is required in the area’ he said. ‘There are no firm plans or timescale to share at this moment as we are at the very early stages of this process.’ The controversy didn’t stop.
In early 2013, the still locally based (but now) former president of the NASUWT said he found the number of schools converting to academies in Warrington ‘worrying’. ‘The issue with academies is there is no accountability to the local community. ‘You lose that family of schools that has made Warrington one of the most successful local authorities. ‘It’s survival of the fittest and the weakest can just go hang themselves. ‘There is no evidence that academies will raise standards. ‘They are racially and socially divisive. ‘The children that will suffer are from working class families. ‘It’s very worrying and it’s very disconcerting.’ The same senior Council officer – the Assistant Director of Children and Young People’s Services – was far more relaxed about the number of schools becoming academies. He responded by saying that the exodus would not impact on the ‘family’ of schools in the town’. And that year the academy sponsored by University of Chester Academies Trust did open. The University of Chester Academies Trust also opened a Free School. What could go wrong? The University of Chester’s education department was rated ‘outstanding’ enabling the University of Chester Academies Trust to claim that it was in a ‘unique position to deliver high levels of teaching and learning, teacher training and bespoke professional development to its family of Academy members and partner schools’.
Roll on another year and in 2014 the University Academy Warrington was inspected and found to be ‘requiring improvement’. Not a great advert for the University of Chester Academies Trust and those who had supported the proposal. Worse was to come. The same year the Department for Education barred the University of Chester Academies Trust from taking on any more academies. Three of its academies were highlighted for ‘unacceptably low’ performance forcing the University of Chester Academies Trust to withdraw from two of them. Perhaps those who had warned against academies were correct and the senior Council officer, who assured the community otherwise, had been mistaken. However, by the time the University of Chester Academies Trust sponsored academy opened in Warrington the senior Council officer had left his post to take up the post of Director of Children’s Service for Brighton & Hove.
In March this year, Brighton & Hove City Council, without any consultation with the local community or teachers, announced that they had asked the University of Brighton Academies Trust to open a free school. The Director of Children’s Services told the BBC that the Council’s proposal for the University of Brighton Academies Trust to open a free school was in ‘very early days, but this is a very exciting proposal that has the potential to be of enormous benefit to the city’. Words not dissimilar to those he used when assuring the community in Warrington over the University of Chester Academies Trust and the number of academies in the area. And by 2015, six of Warrington’s secondary schools were academies – with 50% of them graded by Ofsted as ‘requiring improvement’ – a far worse proportion than the national average! The people of Brighton & Hove are hoping that history isn’t about to repeat itself.

Posted in News, Top story | Tagged , | Comments Off on University of Brighton Trust Free School – Not wanted here