I have rightly been taken to task by two academy principals who rightly make the point that many academies are doing an excellent job and, I concede that although I don't express a view on the rights and wrongs of academisation as such and I think have not done on this site, I am mostly caught up with schools that do not serve families or their local communities. As a result, I deplore this proposal as an expensive diversion to set up a new centralised bureaucracy with no objective evidence of value in doing so, with too many poor examples of academies in existence, at a time when there are far more pressing issues in schools. One wrote:
There are also decent academy chains out there who pay teachers as they should be paid, who properly support them, and Heads who ensure that the more impactful staff work with children across the Trust and crucially, give increased opportunity to those who are keen for that to happen. I have visited a number like this across the country and I think it is just disappointing that the poor performance and greed of probably the minority, should overshadow the efforts of many others who quite frankly are making a good deal more progress with their schools than local councils ever did".
I applaud the sentiment and in fact made this precise point in my interview, arguing that the mixed economy works where it adapts to local needs. I think it is fair to say that the advance of academisation by choice has forced Kent to improve its act considerably, although the fate of Community College Whitstable, Charles Dickens School, Chaucer Technology College, Pent Valley College and The North shows it still does not understand how to deliver for secondary schools. These failures are well documented in this website, along sadly with an equivalent proportion of failing academies. Medway of course, having lost its secondary schools, continues not to have noticed it is also failing in the primary sector and was one of two Local Authorities used by the Secretary for Education to make the case for forced academisation. You will find an article setting out a personal view of the pros and cons of enforced academisation from a Kent perspective here.
However, this article was purely about the rush to enforcement and amongst the parts of my interview not seen are my references to the much more pressing problems in state education that urgently need resolving, including:
1) The teacher and headteacher recruitment and retention crisis that is now on us, with government in denial ("we refuse to be complacent"!). Any number of media stories, including a number on the BBC website confirm the dire situation, especially with retention, with almost four in ten trainee teachers quitting after less than a year in the profession. It has come up with a number of failed schemes such as the Teach First programme - way below its recruitment target, with in any case a high proportion of those joining up leaving the profession as soon as their training is finished. The armed forces into PE teaching initiative with a target of 1000 teachers by 2015, saw just 28 complete their target. The National Teaching Service pilot scheme, planned to recruit a hit squad of top teachers with a target of 1500 teachers by 2020, to deal with pressure points by removing them from other schools, has now closed applications for its first allocation of 100 teachers. We wait to see if the scheme works, but the lack of information for potential candidates suggest another ill thought out half baked idea. Government argues that academisation allows academies to set their own teacher salaries, but as everyone in the profession knows, with the pressures on finances, see below, many schools including academies are laying off expensive staff and employing cheaper teachers or unqualified staff, some using them as cannon fodder on a survive or sink model rather than focus on developing the experienced teachers of the future. There is a similar crisis with headteacher recruitment, with more and more schools coming under the control of fewer and fewer 'superheads', not to improve standards but to disguise the crisis. A recent article in The Times, headed "Superheads boost results but leave schools in chaos" highlights the failure of the concept, examples of which can be found locally. The Secretary of State, in her wisdom has now announced a scheme to raise standards for teacher qualification through a more challenging process.
One of government's strongest arguments in favour of enforced academisation is that academies can attract the best teachers by increased pay rates and and improved working conditions outside regulations for maintained schools. If these are such powerful incentives for teachers, why not allow them for all schools, but then of course academies lose part of their attraction! Actually, the freedom is not that at all for most teachers, as the freedom can work both ways, paying less to unqualified teachers and expecting even longer hours and more onerous conditions for teachers. It is true that top teachers can demand higher pay rates, so that many academies see huge salaries for their leaders, which have to paid fro by cuts elsewhere. However, the main argument, which appears rarely used is that this process attracts NO new teachers, just steals them from other schools where there is greater need, lowering standards in these schools!
2) The financial crisis affecting both maintained schools and academies alike, partially brought about by the unfunded National Insurance and Pensions increases, partly by the reduction in funding for sixth forms, to achieve 'parity' with FE Colleges that have less demands on their curriculum offering and in any case have their own financial difficulties. Redundancy of expensive staff, reduction in the number of courses offered are both commonplace across maintained schools and academies and will only get worse as the funding cuts bite harder.
3) The primary school assessment chaos, directly caused by the government scrapping National Curriculum Levels and replacing them by an incomprehensible 'scheme' to measure progress and achievement. I am supporting a number of grammar school appeals for parents and am amazed at the variety of data being provided, much of it wildly inconsistent from school to school. I hear of headteachers, Local Authority advisers, even OFSTED Inspectors professing a lack of understanding and an inability to explain what is going on. I have seen a six point scheme, a 36 point scheme, a colour coded scheme, schemes that have no measures, schemes I cannot make sense of, and school reports and headteacher recommendations that bear little relation to each other, as heads try and put some meaning to an unworkable system. Whilst just a minor part of the fog for most families, those going to grammar school appeals will be assessed by Independent Panels who have to try and make sense of the nonsensical, with no objective measures to work to. I am sure however they will do their best to be fair to the children when making decisions about their futures. With this issue one could link the government claim that academies have the advantage they have more curriculum freedom than maintained schools.Well that is true, but only because government took away that freedom from state schools some years ago when it passed an Act imposing the National curriculum, that has been through far too much radical change reflecting different government takes. I see nothing to stop government reversing this process and giving the same freedom to maintained schools as it does to academies.
4) The scandal of profit making service companies often run by associates of an academy chain leaders, who cream off academy funds intended for the education of children, along with inflated salaries of the bureaucratic leaderships of too many underperforming academy chains. This can also apply to parts of the mushrooming army of consultants employed by academy chains and Local Authorities, drawn out of teaching by the profits to be made elsewhere.
None of this appears to be important to a government bent on an ideological crusade to convert all schools to a model for which there is no objective evidence that it will make any conceivable improvement to standards, as reported by the government's own Select Committee for Education. Kent County Council's political leaders, like many other leading politicians from across the spectrum of the parties are just a part of the national outcry against this foolish dictat.
Not from Kent, but an impassioned plea from a successful primary school headteacher, who has resigned his post unable to continue in an education system he does not believe in.