Following the recent announcement by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne that all schools in the UK will become academies by 2022, we explain exactly what this means for the education system and the changes you can expect.
What is special about an Academy?
Firstly, the way in which an Academy is funded is different from the traditional local government funded system. Instead, Academies receive funding via central government.
It is also the responsibility of the school principal or headteacher to run daily operations within the school and they report into charitable bodies called Academy Trusts. It is through these trusts that support is given and received along with strategic advice and expertise.
Academies will have more freedom and creativity surrounding teaching and the curriculum, which is hoped will encourage more creativity and innovation at school.
Finally, an Academy will have control over teachers pay, contractual terms and conditions and term lengths.
What remains the same?
Academies will receive the same level of funding per child as a maintained school and they must follow the current laws and guidelines surrounding admissions, exclusions and special educational needs.
What are the reasons behind changing the current system?
It is believed that with greater independence and in some cases “sponsors”, standards and results in Academies will improve at an accelerated rate.
Whilst some Academies that were previously schools are indeed performing better than before, there is no evidence to suggest a definite upward trend when schools make the conversion and in some cases Academies have shown poorer results.
What are people saying about this?
Supporters and decision makers such David Cameron and George Osborne himself, claim that by removing the bureaucracy surrounding locally maintained schools it will empower headteachers to drive standards higher than ever. This comes in response to a dwindling position on the global educational league table and a bid for drastic reform.
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However, critics, such as UNISON are arguing that this step toward privatisation is putting “profits before pupils” and private companies are set to make big profits by providing outsourced services such as libraries, cleaning and administration.
Former Education Secretary David Blunkett, questioned the thinking behind making all schools, especially those currently performing well under local authority. He commented that “forcing them to become academies, against the wishes of teachers and parents, would mean a costly, top-down reform process to address problems that don’t exist, reminiscent of the health reforms of the last parliament.”
The view on the ground, doesn’t get much better, with a parent of Muhammad’s tutee sharing her thoughts, “I am opposed to Academy schools, not least because there is very little evidence-based research that demonstrates their value. Most accounts are anecdotal and any improvements seem to be due to an increase in funding when schools which took up the offer of transferring to Academy status early on were rewarded with. That funding will not now be available and in fact schools are going to suffer financially in having to transfer to academies”.
Finally, we hear from a teacher, who shares first hand experience of the true implications this change brings, “I work in a federation of schools in Hackney, which are all outstanding or good and there are no advantages to the schools or to the children we teach in us becoming academies. The Hackney Learning Trust provides a huge number of services to us such as HR resources and payroll, which will be more expensive if we have to go to a private organisation. In addition, it provides excellent training at a reasonable fee. Finally and most importantly, the Learning Trust holds all Hackney schools to account and monitors us rigorously, providing support to enable us to improve where needed – an essential part of the body’s role. All of this will go under the government’s scheme.”