Monday, 6 April 2015

Academies, the dismantling of our state education system?

My guest blog for John Baron in Leeds Guardian in 2010. And things have only got worse.

Opinion: Academies, the dismantling of our state education system?
Guest blogger and Leeds schools campaigner Victoria Jaquiss looks at the increasing role academies play in education and asks: Are teachers the new miners?
Pupils protest at Primrose High School in March. The school could be closed and turned into an academy Photograph: John Baron/
[It was, soon after]

Friday 18 June 2010 11.30 BSTLast modified on Friday 31 October 201420.54 GMT

Chapter One: What is an Academy and how does it manifest itself?

An academy is a school, with a pretentious title. Full-stop.

No, make that a comma. It's a school, with a pretentious title, and with a bit more money to play around with than other schools.

Academies aren't really anything. They have no vision or educational philosophy. This makes fighting the introduction of academies into the educational world like fighting jelly.

The previous ("Labour") government thought they would like to replace "failing" schools with academies. So just in the neighbourhoods where children were most vulnerable, and most in need of some extra social work and care and understanding, now they have boot camps, blazers and ties, the loss of previous identity (ie its name), the loss of its headteacher, and the loss of staff escaping a system they don't approve of.

They are force-fed extra GCSEs and BTECS (two GCSEs for one exam) – and so blatantly playing the system that nobody outside education really believes they're doing it.

The new Conservative administration has decided that the "outstanding" schools can opt out of local authority control, and become academies. And opt out of national curriculum, by which they have just been judged to be outstanding. So that's their raison d'etre gone then. Or their raison d'outstanding.

And shame on the new Lib-Dems in government for going along with academies.

In the space of three or four years academies have gone from being a punishment for the "worst performing" schools to being a reward for the best performing ones.

Chapter Two: How is an Academy an improvement on a school?

Well, it's not. A year or so ago, Price-Waterhouse-Cooper (Marxist-consultants-not) concluded that, on balance and on average, academies made no difference to overall standards, and where particular institutions have improved on their immediate predecessors it is usually down to a change in intake.

This is down to a process improbably called "fair-banding" in which academy heads are allowed to select their intake to create a social and intellectual mix, which may result in local children being denied a place at their nearest school.


Chapter Three: What is the point of becoming an academy?

So, if an academy is a meaningless concept with no academic rigour behind, that doesn't make any difference to overall "standards", what is the point of it?

There's no point.

Chapter Four: How can we stop the damage happening to our education system?

Irony and understatement are good weapons. And presentation of facts without spin.

I could write for years but you wouldn't read it. Here's a story.

In the autumn term 2009, Education Leeds presented City of Leeds School with three possible academy sponsors.

Each potential sponsor put its argument forward for why and how they should be allowed to run our school. Their arguments were all, in my opinion, laughable, and we the staff, saw all of them off. Our reward was to be threatened with closure, instead. That'll learn us!

Chapter Five: What are academies really about?

They are about the dismantling of our state education system. They are about destabilising and demoralising the work force, and, ultimately lowering the standards of teaching.

Teaching was once one of the most secure jobs in the UK. Many of us entered that profession, wanting to do something socially worthwhile, accepting relatively lower pay for our degrees in exchange for security and altruism.

You could only sack teachers if you close their school. You can't lower their pay, or change their working conditions in situ. I think you can see where this is all going. And I don't really know why.

Perhaps it's fear of the outspoken teachers, who didn't say "SATs, league tables, CRB checks for visiting authors – hmm, good idea". Fear of the teaching unions, fear that we will teach children to think for themselves, if they don't fill up our days with yet another new government initiative.

The teachers are just the new miners.

And I really am stopping now. Thank you, if you have been, for reading this guest blog.

Victoria Jaquiss writes her Leeds Schools Campaigner blog. She has actively opposed plans to turn Primrose high in Burmantofts and Parklands Girls in Seacroft into academies, as well as fighting against plans to close City of Leeds School in Woodhouse.

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