Party conference season is up on us, alongside the usual policy announcements and political statements we’re used to seeing bold headlines, usually with little substance behind them. However, the Shadow Education Secretary yesterday claimed a Labour government would stop Free Schools and give LEAs more control of schools once again. So, is this an ideological return to the ‘good old days’ to give more democratic accountability to parents and local councils or is it the end of a period which has seen the best educational outcomes for over half a century?
Since the Blair Government introduced academies in 2004, they have long been a controversial model. Many opponents of academies claim that this has led to the privatisation of education with many large academy trusts paying Chief EXECUTIVES large salaries and have chain systems with new academies popping up in different parts of the country. Many have also criticised academies because of a lack of accountability to local authorities.
Recently parents with children who have SEN criticised a lack of facilities in some academies, and their only redress was to appeal to the Secretary of State.
The government argues academies drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers over pay, length of the school day and term times. They have more freedom to innovate and can opt out of the national curriculum. It says they have been shown to improve twice as fast as other state schools. However, others dispute that. In the past, they have received £25,000 conversion costs from the Department for
Education and have topped up their budgets by as much as 10%, receiving funds for support services that used to go to the local council. We have also seen some of the best education results for over 40 years. While the policy fails to be as radical as some anticipated, this policy announcement does have the potential to lead to a major change in school governance and how schools teach going forward.