Can’t beat a bit of polemic once in a while!
The Harris Academy Trust accounts are revealing – just a short read and you’ll be shocked when you realise the amounts of public money being spent on redundancy payments and executive pay (£20K annual pay rise for top man Moynihan). And you thought your taxes were being used to educate children!
This is the view from The Observer, 28 January:
“This week, the Observer reveals six out of 10 of the biggest academy trusts have raised serious concerns about a lack of school funding. Schools in England are facing an average 6.5% fall in real per-pupil funding by 2019-20, the steepest cuts since the 1970s. They come on top of the £3bn of annual savings schools need to find in order to counteract the impact of the rising costs of inflation, pensions and recruitment, which the National Audit Office says amounts to a further 8% reduction in per-pupil funding: a massive, under-the-radar decrease in school resources. Little wonder, then, that last year 5,000 headteachers wrote to Philip Hammondwith a “desperate” plea for more cash.
But the alarm bell being sounded by these academy trusts suggests questions that go beyond the funding challenge facing schools. It raises the spectre of what would happen if a major academy chain were to go bust.
Since 2010, the main thrust of government schools policy has been to convert council-run schools into academies run by independent trusts. More than half of secondary schools are now academies, a huge structural reorganisation that dwarfs anything that has gone before. The basis of the government’s school improvement policy is that poorly performing schools should be taken over by high-performing academy chains.
But converting huge numbers of schools into academies has not achieved anything other than removing them from local democratic accountability. There is no evidence that, on average, academy chains do any better at managing schools than the local authorities they replaced. Instead, the reforms have created a structural mess, opening up profound gaps in accountability and governance.”
Today’s startling (!) figures reveal what many of us have known from the very start. There is no magic bullet when it comes to school improvement. More MATs are , apparently, overseeing schools performing below average than above. So it’s difficult for ‘orphan schools’ to find a MAT that can support them. Is an appropriate response to this staggering revelation ‘Duh!’?
How many people know about ‘orphan schools’?
Whilst discussion of ideology of academies and ‘free schools’ seems to have dropped out of the media generally, the sudden rise and fall of Toby Young in a media kerfuffle seems to have relit the spotlight. It was interesting that the campaign against his recent quango appointment built up such a head of steam in so short a time, with an online petition gleaning about 200000 signatures in a matter of days. Maybe there were many teachers out there who remembered his championing of the the ‘free school’ myth and his chumminess with Gove who, one suspects, will forever be a bogey-man to the teaching profession.
Young’s swift demise was brought about by his unpleasant tweets rather than his role in setting up the West London Free School, yet his ‘work’ there was cited by Tory politicians firstly as justification for his appointment and then, after his resignation, was still being mentioned as an apparent counter-balance to his evident misogyny and other prejudices. However, the excellent ‘Disillusioned Idealist’ has done an excellent piece of investigative journalism to show that WLFS was – and is – basically, nothing special.
Maybe this will rekindle an interest in the politics behind the academy and ‘free school’ movement, perhaps even prompting ‘proper’ journalists to take a fresh look. We can hope!
The government is increasingly emboldened in showing its contempt for parents, the teaching profession – the public in general – and in its lack of regard for evidence.
In pushing ahead with Mrs May’s obsession with reintroducing grammar schools, it ignores a wealth of evidence and even staunch opposition from its own side. The arguments have been well-rehearsed and the evidence widely discussed but just consider this one aspect. If it can’t be introduced ‘at a stroke’ (which it obviously can’t) a piecemeal, ‘free-for-all’ will have a destabilising effect as better-off families seek to bus their children to a new grammar ‘over the border’.
Furthermore, will there be a standard ‘entrance’ like the totally discredited 11+ of old (based on the faked results of Birt’s research) and what will the ‘second tier’ of schools be called, that replace the old secondary moderns? Many questions begged – so many that one guesses it’s not going to happen – but then again, they seem to be pressing ahead.
‘Free schools’, UTCs and ‘studio schools’: increasing evidence of these schools failing and closing, and of public money wasted. Yet, the government is again, pressing ahead with more ‘free schools’. To most of us, the evidence is damning but to the ideologues of the right, the failures and closures are entirely consistent with a free market. On the High Street, we are used to businesses opening and closing with regularity so why not in the ‘market’ of education? Well, we can see why but to THEM it’s just the way the market operates and ‘the best’ will survive. Trouble is, on the High Street, it’s the odd entrepreneur who loses his/her money and goes under, often to try again somewhere else, some other time – with schools, children lose out on their one chance of a good education.
Meanwhile, there is a funding crisis in schools, the combination of Cameron’s cash standstill in spending and rising prices, including rises in NI contributions for staff and the requirement to pay the apprenticeship levy. Heads, governors, parents are all providing testimony of shrinking budgets necessitating drastic action: cuts in support staff, cuts in teaching staff, cuts in curriculum offers, desperate requests for donations from parents to help fund the basics of teaching. The government’s only response is to keep repeating the record amount being spent on education. This ignores the extra that this funding is required to do including not only teach more children but fund the expensive ‘white elephant’ ‘free schools’, UTCs etc – and of course the inflated salaries of some of the Trust CEOs.
Perhaps voters will show their disdain for Conservatives’ actions on education at the ballot box in the forthcoming local elections.
If you are a ‘community school’ (that is, you are a Local Authority school rather than a ‘stand-alone’ academy or part of a Multi=Academy Trust), THINK very carefully before you change your status, if you have any say in the matter.
Is this the sort of thing Mrs May means?
Anne Western and Russell Hobby – in Matlock, this coming Saturday (4th). Click through for details.