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Free School and Academy Educational Programme Wobbles.

Opinion / April 1, 2014

A couple of years into the programme and a few cracks have appeared in the structure and  educational performance of free schools and academies. The much heralded foray into this new concept was crucial to the educational ministers strategy of rebuilding schools for the future.

Severed from the operational control by local government the Academy and free schools enjoy additional financial support from the transfer of fees previously payable to local councils. But they needed to develop and manage a fiscal plan that was fit for purpose, inexperience has proved to be major hurdle in this objective.   The large academy groups soon appeared to over dominate schooling in their respective geographical areas. They had the cash but not the quality.  Similarly the initial  enthusiasm shown by teams setting up free schools became overwhelmed by the logistics involved in establishing and operating  a school. Premises became difficult to source, budgets became oversubscribed and pupil numbers fell short of operational targets as parents became concerned over delivery promises.

But the king pin providing the strength behind an academy, free school, state or independent school are the teaching resources; everything else is downstream. Without a dynamic head teacher with the essential  leadership qualities needed to support both pupils and the teaching team any school will fail. Academies and free schools are even more vulnerable as the quality of these schools will be under the spotlight for many years to come. Any deviation in promise or performance will be seen in commercial terms with parents talking with their feet.

The number of good head teachers able to operate in the heat of this level of commercial and educational scrutiny is desperately small. All too often the lack of ability is revealed in pressured management and bullying tactics that can never win. Teachers will leave, children will be transferred and the viscous circle starts to overwhelm.

If the educational programme for the future is to survive it perhaps needs to be modeled on the Independent sector. The structure, although suffering from reduced attendance numbers due to recessionary pressure, is well proven. Critical is the quality of the teaching team, without them the commercial quality of the service would not be sustainable. If free schools and academies reflected this successful structure they would stand a chance in the wide world. Until then we need to concentrate on supplying the market with the quality of teaching staff and head teachers that can operate the system for the long term, something we do not seem to have addressed at the moment.

The chicken and egg scenario would show that if you are to sell a quality product you first need a great design team. Having the best manufacturing facilities that supplies a flawed product does not make any sense.


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