By now, most of us will be aware of the sweeping changes to the education system as schools move outside of local authority control and towards becoming publicly funded state schools – academies.
It’s understandable that many parents are still unsure as to what academies stand for, how they’re run and the health of the scheme – I’ve been looking at the latest National Audit Office report and here’s my 101 on academies.
- Academies are directly accountable to the Department for Education and are therefore outside of local authority control. This means they have more control over curriculum, implementation and budgetary decisions
- Academy trusts run academies. The trusts are charities and thus subject to charity law, though ultimately each trust answers directly to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove.
- On achieving academy status, the school’s funding comes directly from central government coffers, whereas schools that don’t shift to academies (maintained schools) remain under local authority control.
- There are several types of academy – converter academies, whose trust is formed of the previous school’s governing body, and sponsored academies, where an external organisation has taken over the running. 97% of academies fall into these two categories. (As of September 2012)
- 203 – Number of academies (as of May 2010)
- 2,309 – Number of academies (as of September 2012)
- 1,037% – Growth of academies between May 2010 and September 2012 (Since the election)
- £8.3bn (£1bn overspend) – Figure spent by DfE on academies programme in two years between 2010/12 (since coalition formed)
- 5% – Estimated percentage of primary school pupils at academies (as of September 2012)
- 48% – Estimated percentage of secondary school pupils at academies (as of September 2012)
When the scheme was set up in 2002 the aim was to bring improved educational attainment to deprived areas by taking over failing schools or building new, larger ones; yet this seems to have turned on its head as almost every school seeks to attain academy status.
What we have to ask ourselves as parents is will this monumental shift towards academies improve the education of our children? The short answer is that we simply can’t say, though definite measures of success – both financial and educational – are yet to be implemented.
What we do know is that a 2010 report concluded that academies were performing well against their initial targets after being set up in 2002 and growing at a steady rate. In the last two years however, we have seen an massive rise in the number of academies.
The latest report found that most schools making the shift to academies did so in an effort to obtain more autonomous control over funding and how the curriculum is implemented. A good thing? Possibly, but teachers are understandably nervous as trusts free themselves from local authority, giving them more control over admissions, curriculum and T’s&C’s – including pay.
The report found the DfE was underprepared for the huge increase in academies, leading to a 1bn overspend on the project in just the last two years, a figure predicted to rise. Struggling schools and those outside academy status will be made to foot the bill as cuts in their areas make up for the shortfall.
It’s no wonder that so many schools are converting when the government so clearly favours the academy system, but you have to ask – as local authorities’ role in education increasingly diminishes, who’ll be there to pick up the pieces should the scheme fall apart..?
And where does that leave our kids?
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