An independent report from the Academies Commission, issued today, has accused some academies of flouting admission rules to select pupils from more privileged backgrounds in order to boost performance. The self-styled ‘Commission’, supported by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and Pearson, and headed by former OFSTED chief, Christine Gilbert (left), carried out a major study and came across numerous cases where academies were accused of finding covert methods to select pupils, although they are supposed to be sticking to strict guidelines.
This did not come as a shock to those of us who have argued against academies from the word go. Many of us who have worked in schools know that schools have done this for a number of years: CTCs, Grant-Maintained and Foundation schools have often used underhand methods to recruit the brightest prospects (or to quietly ‘lose’ those who will drag down the school’s examination performance). What has allowed all these schools to do this is the fact that they have had greater control over admissions — including being their own ‘appeals panels’ — meaning that schools subject to Local Authority supervision have had to stick to the rules which those schools have ignored. Academies, of course, have been deliberately set up to be beyond the reach of the LA.
There is a further blow for supporters of academies in the report. The dramatic rise in the number of academies does not necessarily represent a “panacea for school improvement,” according to the Commission. Many of them have not, says the report, taken on the supportive roles towards other schools which they committed to when they became academies. “The evidence…..suggests relatively few have taken on the supportive roles expected.”
There is further evidence in the report which “suggests that many previously poorly performing schools in disadvantaged areas [who stayed with the local authorities] have done just as well as those which embarked on the academy route.”
The Academy Commission appears to be broadly in favour of the academy idea (although you wouldn’t guess this from their report, entitled, ‘Unleashing Greatess: Getting the best from an academised system’); other commissioners include Professor Chris Husbands, Director of the University of London Institute of Education.