Thursday, 6 January 2011

The expansion of academies

The government is making much of the fact that there are now 407 academies, twice as many as when Labour left office. This is not a strictly fair comparison, of course, since the secondary figure of 371 academies includes 68 where the work, including sponsorship, had already been done before Michael Gove entered Sanctuary Buildings. In other words, there are 100 secondary schools and 36 primary schools that have converted to academies as outstanding schools as a direct result of his greater flexibility. It is good that this option is now open to all schools, including primaries, that wish it, and that schools are taking it up: schools benefit from greater independence. It is also right that the best schools should be expected to show system leadership as academies, though the detail of how that requirement is being applied is a little sketchy. Schools like Outwood Grange and Greensward - both given academy status by Labour - had much stronger models of partnership linked to their status. And it is simply ridiculous to claim that the marginal governance and financial changes involved in converting an outstanding school to an academy are in any way comparable to the huge task involved in gaining secure sponsorship and leadership for a new academy in a tough area or an academy replacing a failing school.

Rather than focusing on the speed with which the programme has expanded or assuming that the Labour government's ambitious target of 400 academies in deprived areas was an 'artificial ceiling' which it wasn't, the education secretary and his Conservative colleagues should acknowledge these two very different types of academy and the challenges they present, and the hard work that his predecessors put in reaching the 271 total. There will be more academies, and that is a good thing. But what matters is their collective contribution to school improvement and social mobility as much as their overall numbers. So, the emphasis and ministerial effort should now be on encouraging more imaginative trusts, chains of schools and shared curriculum communities, with a strong drive for improvement. That could provide a genuine transformation.


Bob Deed said...

It is ironic that the flurry of publicity about numbers comes after Third Sector magazine reported that uncertainty hangs over the he future regulation of the academy sector with the YPLA not yet taking over from the Charity Commission as Principal Regulator.

Anonymous said...

More Quangos!