Archive for the ‘Academies/Free Schools’ Category

Academies/Free Schools

Jeudi, janvier 6th, 2011

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) wants the government to cancel its plans for so-called Free Schools or Academies and (to quote) stop playing with the educational future of the Country. Such state-funded schools are not wanted or needed and that parents have not been consulted enough (unquote).
It will be recalled that Free Schools, independent of local authorities, can be set up by e.g. charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers & groups of parents. The first 25 are scheduled to open across 22 local authorities from September of this year. However, an NUT-commissioned YouGov survey of 1,021 parents in Free School-approved locations, found 31% were against setting up one in their area, 26% were in favour and 29% were neutral. Perhaps more importantly and reflecting a lack of communication & drive on the part of the government, 76% of the parents polled were unaware a Free School was planned in their area and 72% said they had not been given the opportunity to give their opinion on the matter.
Up against this representation of the educational establishment we have Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, who believes in the merits of traditional teaching and rigorous testing and has a vision of making every state school an Academy or Free School. In terms of his progress to date, it was reported on BBC Radio 4 today that only around 50% of schools were planning to achieve Academy or Free School status. It then becomes almost a question of which side of the argument views this as a wine glass half-full or half-empty situation, with Mr Gove seeming to represent the more positive (half-full wine glass) side and expressing himself very satisfied with progress so far. Indeed, also putting a more positive view of the situation, we have Nick Boles the Conservative MP for Grantham & Stamford, writing in the Times of 4th January that the early measures of the Coalition government are making an impact. It took the previous Labour government seven years to set up 200 Academies but the Coalition has already created 200 more in seven months! He is also advocating that as more schools become Academies, the government should actively encourage them to form or join chains of schools such as the Priory Federation in Lincolnshire or the Harris Federation of South London Schools, which show that pooling of resources can facilitate attracting outstanding leadership and also release money to improve the facilities and opportunities for pupils.
However, to really combat entrenched interests within the educational establishment requires political courage says Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of Schools and writing in the Sunday Times of 2nd January. Mr Gove also has to be more radical and ruthless if he wants a more thoughtful, open-minded profession prepared to engage with his agenda. As an example of a weakness of policy (perhaps for unavoidable political reasons) that he perceives as undermining delivery of the Gove reforms, Mr Woodhead cites the refusal of Mr Gove to allow for-profit companies to participate in his Free Schools initiative. Here Chris Woodhead declares an interest as he is also chairman of the private schools group Cognita; however, he quotes a recent report published by the Institute of Economic Affairs (iea.org.uk) on the Swedish Free School reforms, which shows that without the involvement of commercial companies there is very little chance of any real momentum being developed. In Sweden these for-profit schools delivered better results for pupils from the poorest backgrounds than either state schools or non-profit schools. It seems evident then that e.g. in tough areas with high levels of poverty and low levels of parental education, the profit motive in education can make a beneficial difference. In addition, since for-profit schools are not allowed to charge top-up fees, their profits must come from running their schools more efficiently than state schools to meet the demands of parents (i.e. their customers) and able to suitably reward their vital resource of good teachers. Mr Woodhead thinks this should appeal to a Coalition government which claims to value private enterprise.
On the Gove ambition to make every state school an Academy or Free School, Mr Woodhead also quotes evidence from the 1990s indicating that most schools will never opt to leave the protection of their local authority (but which now seems somewhat contradicted by the latest report quoted earlier of 50% planning Academy or Free School status). He, therefore, proposes that instead of Mr Gove leaving each school to come to its own decision – in Surrey (within which his constituency also falls) for example, only one of 400 schools has taken up his invitation – effective legislation is essential to push schools to function as independent institutions. There is also a corresponding need to support those schools and teachers sympathetic to the Gove vision and whose reciprocal support is again critical to its practical implementation.