Academisation is reckless and irresponsible


Originally published for Bromsgrove Standard, 15 April 2016

Last month the Government announced plans to force all schools to become academies by 2022. The change marks a fundamental top-down reorganisation of our schools not seen for generations.

Academies were once promoted as a way of turning failing schools around and making schools more rather than less responsive to the needs of local area. Many of those claims were always questionable, but they go out of the window with the Government’s latest announcement. Gone will be the chance to influence local education through locally elected councillors. Once all 15,000 local authority schools become academies, power is centralised in the hands of ministers. Not only that but the days of parent governors will also be numbered as private providers or “charitable chains” take over, controlling admissions, funding priorities and much of the curriculum.

But how is it even going to work?  Government backing for the expansion of academies has already seen 5,000 schools convert “voluntarily” with some academy chains taking on more schools than they could cope with.  Just who is it that the Government thinks will take on responsibility for 15,000 more?

In some instances academies have been proven to work, but it makes no sense forcing changes on proven and successful state schools. The vast majority of non-academies affected by this policy will be primary schools, over 80 per-cent of which are already good and outstanding.

There’s not even any evidence that academisation in itself leads to improvements. Experience has shown that some academies can fail local children just as some local authority should can fail them. Good teaching, proper funding and inspirational leadership are the things that usually make the difference, not whether you call a school an academy or not.  But with compulsory academisation, the danger is that this could get even worse, with national teaching standards withering and lead to the recruitment of more unqualified staff being recruited.

Perhaps most of all, these proposals are a red herring – and an expensive one too at £1.3bn – which are distracting from bigger issues in education that the Government are ignoring. We face a chronic teacher shortage, ever-growing class sizes and funding cuts.

Some 50,000 teachers quit the profession last year – a record high. This left half of all schools starting this academic year with unfilled positions.

Class sizes are rising with over half a million primary school pupils in classes of over 40 and 50. And with no requirement for opening academies where need is greatest, it will be harder to find sufficient good places everywhere.

The schools budget has received a cut of 8% – the first real terms cut since the mid-1990s! So how can we justify spending money on a reorganisation?

It’s not just me who thinks this is mad – senior MPs of all parties, teachers, schools, councils, along with over 140,000 petitioners have condemned the idea so far.

This policy is evidently not about improving education. It is ideological and irresponsible that will undermine the quality of teaching.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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