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School Academies Damned If You Improve Damned If You Do Not

Opinion / June 5, 2012

A question on most parents’ lips; what are academies realty trying to achieve. Teachers resources  in school tend to view them either as the ultimate cure by the Department for Education (DfE) for poor performing schools or a get out card for better performing schools to avoid DfE control. If academies have profound benefits, as claimed by the DfE, why are they playing educational games with our children’s schooling by also using them as a threat? Ask the average teacher or Head teacher and they inevitably flinch at the thought of converting to an academy. So why is the government promoting academy status as a confusing combined threat and benefit?

If academies are the positive development that schools should aspire to, why are not all schools realigned as academies. The DfE would have us believe academies, with their enhanced autonomy from central control, benefit from the subsequent influence from third parties operations that result in improvement in the schools performance. If this were categorically true, teachers who claim an extremely stressful existence within the state system would surely welcome the relief the move to become an academy would achieve. But this is not the case.

The average school being transferred to become an academy view the move as a distasteful reflection of their performance. Not perhaps the positive vibes intended by the DfE. Academies can therefore kick off their existence with a despondent teaching resource perhaps akin to the football team that has just been relegated. The threat is complex. The outcome scorned. Schools that are turning themselves around, showing positive improvements to clear their OFSTED “special measures” classification have been summarily pushed into becoming an academy as if this was the intention all along. They have little hope of resistance. Schools faced with this eventuality are told if their governors do not apply for academy status they will deemed as having “weak leadership.” Something odd here; resistance which can normally be deemed a strength becomes the antithesis of strong leadership.

Birmingham has become embroiled in the Academy battleground. As the largest local authority in the UK the incidence of conflict would be statistically larger. Currently there are 60 primary schools who believe they will be caught by the switch or die syndrome. Some Birmingham schools and members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) say this is a stealth policy to inflate the number of schools transferring to academy status that will be used by the DfE to present the programme as a success story.

The incentive to manage an improvement programme is now at risk. One primary school in Birmingham, whose head teacher has been working hard to improve the school standards, sees all her hard work being wasted. Despite the achievement the school is now being forced to become an academy. When the transfer is complete the management of the new academy have carte blanche rights on the future employment of the teachers involved. The warning bells are ringing in all schools in the danger zone. To them Ofsted inspections have taken on a new level of anxiety. But is this really the best option. If the government truly believe academies are the way forward and not a convenient option to get struggling schools out of their hair why play educational games with the staff, pupils and parents.  The manoeuvers do little to instil faith in the system that is detracting teaching commitments from the students who desperately need it.

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